HALLOWELL — The next to the last step in the Stevens Commons master plan application review process is expected to be taken when the Planning Board meets Wednesday at City Hall.

The board will speak for the final time about the plan before presenting a recommendation to the City Council during a special meeting Jan. 26. The council is expected to vote to either approve, approve with conditions or deny the master plan at that meeting or its regular meeting Feb. 13.

At a joint meeting between the council and Planning Board last week, a number of residents expressed concerns about potential retail development at Stevens Commons and the use of public funds for the private development.

Eric Perry said part of the stated goal of the comprehensive plan is to limit retail development on the Winthrop Street campus. He also was concerned about businesses at Stevens Commons competing with downtown Hallowell retail locations.

But Harold Booth said the downtown district is vibrant enough to withstand competition from additional businesses at Stevens Commons, and light retail would provide a service to anyone who’d be living on the campus.

The Planning Board saw almost no turnover as the calendar turned to 2017, unlike the council, which had three new councilors take the oath of office earlier this month.

Andrew Landry became a full voting member of the board — moving up from the first alternate spot — to replace Dan Davis, husband of Councilor Kara Walker. Davis was named to the Planning Board last year by Mayor Mark Walker.

Board members have been thinking about the Stevens Commons project to some degree since Matt Morrill acquired the 54-acre property from the state for $215,000 in April. Code Enforcement Officer Doug Ide was hired last year and said he is still getting up to speed on the project, which many consider the biggest in Hallowell’s history. Interim CEO Dick Dolby, who ran the code enforcement office in Augusta for more than 20 years, agreed to stay aboard through the completion of the master plan application review.

Morrill’s vision for the campus is as a mixed-use development including affordable senior housing, commercial and retail space and small, clustered subdivisions. He submitted the master plan for the property in September, and it has since been discussed and scrutinized at several public meetings and workshops.

Morrill, of Grand View Log and Timber Frames in Winthrop, has asked the city for $600,000 to repair the road network within the campus, a move Morrill said is imperative if he is to attract other developers to make his vision for the property a reality.

“I’ve put two years into this project, and just to get people to come to the table, I’m asking the city for a little bit of money to get the road network in place,” Morrill said last week. “I just need your support.”

The city has proposed a $2.36 million bond package, which would include the money Morrill has requested, plus additional funding for the Water Street reconstruction project and for maintenance to rural Hallowell roads. A special election will be held sometime in late winter or early spring, City Manager Nate Rudy said.

During last week’s meeting, several people expressed concern with providing public funding for a private development. Since purchasing the former boarding school for girls, Morrill has called the project a public/private partnership, but not everyone agrees.

Patricia Connors, who sent a mailer to every resident in Hallowell last week expressing her opposition to the plan, said it shouldn’t be considered a partnership because “only one side is showing what they’re bringing to the table.”

Developers should bring their own money to the project and build streets and utilities that the city would accept, Connors said during last week’s meeting.

“Public money shouldn’t be used to help fund a private development,” she said. “Why would the city pay for infrastructure improvements on private property?”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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