HALLOWELL — The Planning Board on Wednesday determined that the master plan for the Stevens Commons project is complete, an important step forward for a Winthrop developer who hopes to turn the former school property into affordable senior housing, commercial and residential space and small, clustered subdivisions.

Owner and developer Matt Morrill submitted his plan for the 54-acre campus Sept. 16. The Planning Board has never reviewed a plan of this magnitude before, said Judy Feinstein, board member.

“This project is totally encapsulating, and I’m looking at it as a huge opportunity for the city,” said Morrill, who was joined at the meeting by his attorney, Tom Federle. “It’s going to really benefit the surrounding community and the city with new uses on campus.”

Despite several recent public criticisms of the plan, especially from Hallowell Board of Trade President Ruth LaChance, Wednesday’s meeting was held only to determine whether the plan application met the requirements for completeness according to a city ordinance, not to discuss the merits or feasibility of the plan itself.

The ordinance stipulates that a master plan include a development narrative, a site inventory and analysis, a conceptual land use plan, a conceptual infrastructure plan and development and dimensional standards for the project.

The next step would be a site visit and a public workshop, which has to occur within 45 days of the affirmation of the application’s completeness. After that workshop, the Planning Board would review any changes made to the master plan before sending the application to a joint review by the board and the City Council. Ultimately, the board would make a recommendation to the council, and then the council would either approve, approve with conditions or deny the master plan. The entire process could take up to 270 days, but Morrill said he hopes the board and council would expedite certain parts of the process.

Before the Planning Board began its discussion, interim Code Enforcement Officer Dick Dolby said the plan was complete. Minus longtime board member Jane Orbeton, who was out of town, the board spent nearly two hours going through the requirements for completion using a checklist provided by planning consultant Mark Eyerman.

The board recommended several small changes to the master plan, including a number of grammatical ones, which Morrill will make before the public workshop in November. Morrill also said he plans to be back in about a month with Phase 1 of a subdivision plan.

Morrill, of Grand View Log and Timber Frames in Winthrop, acquired the property from the state in April for $215,000. His vision for the campus, which was originally a boarding school for girls in the late 1800s, is as a mixed-use development featuring affordable senior housing, commercial and residential space and small, clustered subdivisions.

In addition to reviewing the master plan, city officials have continued to discuss a potential bond issue that would raise $1 million for infrastructure improvements at the campus, mostly for roads and sidewalks. The roads and sidewalks would become city property as part of an agreement with the developer.

The city also is expected to make a decision on Hallowell’s fire protection services, and the Stevens Commons campus has been a big part of the discussion, though there was no mention of the fire station Wednesday night.

Fire Chief Mike Grant worked with Morrill and proposed building a new fire station next to the campus’s Erskine Building, part of a phased plan that eventually would include renovating part of that building to house a public safety facility.

The Fire Services Committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 29, and Mayor Mark Walker said he hopes the committee will be prepared to make a recommendation to the council at its November meeting.

The Planning Board is hoping to hold the public workshop about Stevens Commons on Nov. 16 during its regular meeting, which would be well within the 45-day timeline.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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