HALLOWELL — Potential retail development at the Stevens Commons property on Winthrop Street attracted the most scrutiny during a public workshop in Hallowell Wednesday night on owner Matt Morrill’s master plan for the campus.

More than 40 people filled seats in the City Hall Auditorium, including Mayor Mark Walker, councilors Michael Frett and Phil Lindley and incoming councilors Kara Walker, Lynn Irish and Maureen Aucoin-Giroux and members of the Planning Board.

Throughout the meeting, which lasted only 75 minutes, people spoke in favor of limited retail development and against the possibility of retail at the 54-acre campus, but everyone agreed that anything that would hurt Hallowell’s downtown would be unacceptable.

Ruth LaChance, president of the Hallowell Board of Trade, did not attend the meeting, but she said recently that her organization would not support the Stevens Commons plan if it included any retail development.

During Wednesday’s meeting, many people expressed concerns about retail development, but most seemed open to the idea.

Deb Fahy, the executive director of the Harlow Gallery on Water Street, said having more than one art gallery in downtown Hallowell makes the city a destination. Nate Pierce, a relatively new resident of Hallowell, said people would move to the Stevens Commons campus in part because of the city’s vibrant downtown.

“There’s nothing that I saw in the plan that would draw people away from downtown,” he said. “I think it would just enhance it.”

Carolyn Manson said Row House, Hallowell’s historical preservation organization, appreciates Morrill’s efforts to prioritize preserving the historic nature of the campus’ nine buildings.

“We are willing to help Matt in any way that we can to ensure, if possible, that these buildings are historically preserved,” Manson said.

Manson also said Row House supports limited retail development and said it would be “appropriate.”

Several people expressed their concerns about the potential increase in traffic that may result from the new mixed-use development, especially with so many children living around Pleasant and Page streets.

Morrill can make changes to the plan before the Planning Board and council review the application. The Planning Board would then make a recommendation to the council, and then the council would vote whether to approve, approve with conditions or deny the master plan.

Each of these steps must happen within 45 days of the completion of the previous step. There is no feeling from Walker or City Manager Nate Rudy about when the council may take a final vote on the master plan.

Since taking ownership of the 54-acre campus, Morrill has expressed his vision for the property on Winthrop Street as a mixed-use development featuring affordable senior housing, commercial and residential space and small, clustered subdivisions. He has never officially mentioned a specific type of retail establishment that he would like to see on the campus.

Morrill, of Grand View Log and Timber Frames in Winthrop, bought the property from the state for $215,000 in April. He has been working on finding other investors and developers to help turn the former girls boarding school into a showcase piece of Hallowell real estate.

“My email address and phone number is out there, and I am listening to everyone’s concerns,” Morrill said at the end of the meeting. “I look forward to working with the community to come up with a plan that is a benefit to the whole community.”

The master plan was submitted in September and reviewed by interim Code Enforcement Officer Dick Dolby before the Planning Board deemed it complete.

Dolby, who spent more than 20 years heading the code enforcement office in Augusta, agreed to help Hallowell’s new Code Enforcement Officer, Douglas Ide, to continue reviewing documents and applications related to the Stevens School redevelopment. Ide, a Manchester selectman, was hired as a part-time code enforcement officer earlier this month after a four-month search.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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