WATERVILLE — The Planning Board on Monday voted 5-1 to approve a site plan for a $25 million, 100,000-square-foot residential complex for Colby College on the northeast tip of The Concourse downtown.

But approval almost didn’t happen, which would have thwarted the project.

Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate for both Colby and Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby, requested a waiver for 45 parking spaces required for the approximately 9,000-square-foot retail space that would be on the ground floor of the building. He and City Engineer Greg Brown said a special parking committee will be working on a parking management strategy for downtown over the next year or more as the city grows, and parking for the retail space will be part of that strategy.

The Planning Board is authorized to waive those parking requirements if the parcel on which the building is located is within 300 feet of an existing public parking area or private area controlled by the developer.

During the findings of fact portion of the meeting, the board took a vote to decide on that waiver and the vote was 3-3, which effectively defeated the motion to waive. Discussion ensued, clarifying that if the waiver is not granted, the project would be delayed at least a year and costs incurred by Colby would be significant.

Business owners, including Yardgoods owner Ken Vlodek, who earlier had said they were concerned about parking with all the downtown growth, said they still want to see the project approved and are hopeful that the parking committee will resolve parking issues.

After the 3-3 vote, Planning Board member Bruce White, who had made the motion to vote on the waiver, said he did so because the findings of fact had not yet been voted on. So the board took a second vote on the site plan after findings of fact were completed. The board voted 5-1 to approve the site plan to include the parking waiver with Planning Board member Jessica Laliberte the lone dissenter.

Laliberte and board members Scott Fortin and Mark Champagne had initially voted against approving the waiver with Laliberte urging the board to slow down, take the time to look at possible parking solutions and not vote on the project until the parking committee had done some work. She said the board owed it to the businesses in the area that are concerned about parking. White, Planning Board Chairman Paul Lussier and board member Tom Nale voted in favor.

Worried about the possibility of the project’s being stopped dead in its tracks, Tom DePre, who owns two buildings on Main Street with his father, also Tom, and brother, Justin, said they own a parking area behind their buildings, which are being renovated, and his family would be willing to work with Colby on possibly sharing some parking, as their lot is within 300 feet of the proposed residential complex.

Nale, Brown and others urged the board to approve the site plan, including the waiver.

“I’m pleading to the board folks that voted to not grant the waiver … I don’t know how you can keep this project moving and not grant this waiver,” Brown said.

Nale said he is a member of the parking committee and asked what the board would do if the committee never finds those 45 spaces in the future.

“At that point, would we say we’re just going to scrap this project?” he said. “I can’t imagine we would say that.”

Vlodek emphasized that he, too, wanted to see the project happen, despite his concerns about parking.

“I just keep bringing it up to keep it at the forefront,” he said of the parking issue.

The 5-story mixed-use building at 150 Main St. would house 200 students, faculty and staff involved in a special civic engagement curriculum. They would live in 52 apartments on the upper floors and the ground floor would house retail, as well as a glassed-in forum space that may be used by not only Colby, but also by the city, nonprofit organizations, businesses and other entities. Doug Terp, vice president for administration at Colby, gave a power point presentation about the project Monday.

The project is one of several Colby is undertaking downtown to the tune of more than $45 million as part of its efforts to help the city revitalize the downtown. Colby also plans to build a 42-room boutique hotel on the former Levine’s clothing store lot at 9 Main St. and is renovating the former Hains building at 173 Main St. for more than $5 million.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider a final vote to approve an amended tax increment financing district and related development plan for the residential complex, which will be at the corner of Main and Appleton streets.

The council last year voted to sell the property to Colby for $300,000 on the condition that if the property becomes tax-exempt, the college would make payments in lieu of taxes. On Feb. 7 the council voted to amend that original agreement to delete the condition and allow collection of future property taxes through a TIF district. While the upper floors would be tax-exempt, the first floor where retail will be located would be taxable. The city’s method for assessing the tax value of that floor retail would yield about $36,000 in taxes but as part of the TIF agreement, Colby plans to pay money in lieu of taxes totaling $65,000 a year.

Councilors on Tuesday also will take a final vote on whether to amend the existing downtown TIF district to remove 150 Main St. from the district so as to allow the building to be in a separate one.

The state must approve both the TIF for the residential complex and the amendment to the existing downtown TIF and while that process can take a few months, City Manager Michael Roy said Monday that city officials plan to ask the state to speed up that process for the project.

Meanwhile, while the city has signed a purchase and sale agreement to sell the 0.77-acre lot to Colby on The Concourse for $300,000, the deed has not yet changed hands, according to Roy.

“I am hopeful that will occur by the end of this week,” Roy said Monday.

In any case, Colby may still do some work on the property prior to state approvals of TIFs.

Ureneck said earlier Monday that officials would break ground on the project likely within six to eight weeks if the council and Planning Board give its approvals. The goal is to have students living in the building in August, 2018.

“In order to meet the occupancy date, we need to release some early site and utility work prior to having the building completely designed,” he said earlier Monday.

The part of The Concourse where the residential complex will be built currently houses about 90 parking spaces which will be lost when Colby takes over the property. The four-and-six-bedroom apartments in the building for students will have full kitchens and common living areas. There will also be two-bedroom apartments for faculty and one-bedroom units for resident assistants.

The architect for the building is Ayers Saint Gross, of Baltimore, Maryland. The construction manager is Landry/French Construction Co., of Scarborough.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 

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