CHELSEA — Poised to give final approval to a project to build permanent housing for homeless veterans, the Chelsea Planning Board was stymied by a missing piece of information last week.

That final piece, the project’s impact on the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12, was not available last week when the planning board expected to approve the project. School district Superintendent Howard Tuttle was invited to the meeting but he did not attend.

That pushes the final decision to 7 p.m. on Jan. 3, when the Chelsea Planning Board will meet again.

Since February, the Volunteers of America, a nonprofit organization that provides human service programs and has built housing for veterans in other Maine communities, has been working on a plan to build cabins on 11 acres at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus. Representatives from Veterans Affairs and Volunteers of America gave a presentation to the Planning Board in June, showing plans that were 50 percent complete. The plans are now completed.

Project plans call for building 16 one-bedroom cabins, five two-bedroom cabins and a community cabin at the south end of the campus.

To access construction financing, the Volunteers of America needs final subdivision approval, and to grant that, the planning board needs an explanation of the project’s impact on the community, including the school district. Construction is slated to begin early next year.


Until lawyers started reviewing documents, “No one knew it was needed,” said Brian Sites, VOA’s vice president of business development and implementation. “The Planning Board has been great helping us out.”

The school impact is key to the discussions because adding children to the school system would impose additional costs on the school, particularly since the cabins are being built on federal land, which is not taxed.

But it’s not clear that anyone moving into the cabins would have children. To live there, the veterans must have Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers, and to qualify for those, veterans must be homeless. Couch-surfing doesn’t count in this case.

“What could (the school district) say to us that we would vote against this?” board member Maria Jacques said.

Superintendent Tuttle did not return a call for comment.

With an expected completion date in late fall 2017, and leasing expected to start in late summer or early fall, there’s no way to tell now who may live in the cabins.


Melissa Morrill, VOA vice president of program operations, seniors, housing mediation services and veterans, said the project is subject to fair housing laws, and the Volunteers of America will not discriminate against veterans with children.

Planning Board Chairwoman Andrea Smith said she would speak with Tuttle to get school information to complete the impact assessment. Once that and several other items are completed, the board is expected to take action in early January.

Project officials are also expected to appear before the Chelsea Board of Selectmen in January on the tax exempt status of the project.

Last week, Volunteers of America celebrated receiving a $100,000 grant from TD Bank in support of the Cabin in the Woods project. The bulk of the project is being funded through the sale of federal low-income housing tax credits.

Sites said the project will be built using panel construction. Over the winter, panels will be assembled in a manufacturing facility and will be installed on the site when the concrete foundations are completed next year.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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