AUGUSTA — In a 4-3 vote decided by Mayor David Rollins’ tie-breaking vote, the City Council agreed to lease, probably at no cost, city-owned land on the Kennebec Lockes site to the Augusta Housing Authority so the authority can build 34 units of rental housing meant to be affordable to working people.

Councilors also agreed to grant a tax agreement to the housing authority meant to help the project.

Councilors initially were locked in tie, with 3-3 votes on both proposals, with Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett and At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien opposed and Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant, Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliot and At-large Councilor Jennifer Day in favor.

Rollins cast the deciding, affirmative votes. He said he voted in favor primarily because he was confident the two absent councilors, At-large Councilors Marci Alexander and Corey Wilson, favor the project. But he also said he supports the proposal and is confident concerns about traffic and other site issues can be addressed by the Planning Board, which has approval authority over the specifics of the project.

“The site concerns, all those potential problems will be handled at the Planning Board level,” Rollins said. “I see (the project) as an improvement — an improvement to housing, in a housing neighborhood.”

Neighbors of the site, which for many years was home to paper mills, spoke out against the proposal, saying it would bring unwelcome traffic and disruption to the otherwise quiet neighborhood around Maple Street, which under the current plan would be the only access point to and from the proposed six-building apartment complex.


Joyce Grondin, whose Maple Street home is near the site, said a petition expressing opposition to the project has garnered more than 70 signatures. She said her opposition to the project has nothing to do with it being a housing authority project. She said the site simply should not be accessed from Maple Street, which she said is narrow and even narrower in the winter. She said the city should develop better access to the site, and not on Maple Street.

“I believe the city is putting the cart before the horse and has not figured out where to put entrances to the site,” Grondin said. “I completely understand the frustration you have about not being able to put something at this site. But barreling through Maple Street is not the way to do it. Maple and Willow street cannot sustain the traffic. Even if somebody wanted to develop condos down there, or an restaurant, Maple Street is not the entrance to be using.”

Proponents of the project said the housing is needed for working people, and the site between the Maple Street neighborhood and the Kennebec River would be a good location for it.

Bangor Street resident Lisa Wardwell, owner of Lisa’s Restaurant and Lisa’s White Flour catering in Augusta, and Chinah Dine-ah, in South China, cited a recent magazine article that said the state’s worker shortage goes hand in hand with a lack of affordable housing. She said she is not able to find enough workers for her restaurants.

“This is the perfect place in Augusta to put housing, because it is already a neighborhood,” Wardwell said. “It’s a perfect in-town place to put more workers, and they’ll have to work to be able to pay rent, which is exactly what we need in Augusta — people who will work.”

The housing authority, which is independent of the city, would build the 34 apartments on about 3 acres, on the southern end and toward the rear, nonriver side portion of the nearly mile-long, 20-acre property that the city acquired in 2009 for nonpayment of taxes.


Councilors voted Thursday to authorize City Manager William Bridgeo to negotiate a no-cost or low-cost lease with the housing authority allowing it to use the site. Bridgeo said the lease probably would be for around 50 years, extending for at least as long as the project would be financed.

Councilors who voted in favor said traffic concerns are legitimate and should be studied. Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said he’s hopeful additional, better access points can be built to the site, but he supports the project moving forward in the meantime.

Blodgett, whose ward includes the site, said the spot is a poor location for the project and it will disrupt the neighborhood. She said residents in the area were right to defend their neighborhood.

“This is what we all should be doing in the capital city, being passionate about protecting your homes,” she said. “I’d like to see more of that, people protecting their quality of life.”

Councilors also voted to grant a tax increment financing, or TIF, deal with the city to help fund the cost of the project using affordable housing tax credits.

The property is not taxed now because the city owns it. The housing authority, a nonprofit corporation, normally also would not be charged property taxes if it owned the property. However, a TIF is necessary, Bartlett has said, both to help bring funding for the project and to help an application for tax credits score well enough to be selected in a highly competitive process for affordable housing projects.


The housing authority would form a for-profit entity for the project, to be eligible for tax credits, then seek to sell those tax credits to provide around $4.7 million of the estimated $6 million project cost.

The TIF agreement would return a total of about $1.1 million to the housing authority, funds which, with a TIF in place, would be paid in property taxes if the development was a for-profit operation.

The TIF agreement also would return a total of about $277,000 to the city, which the city could use for improvements allowed for TIF funds by the state, which include road or other infrastructure improvements within the district.

The proposed development would not have subsidized rents but would be restricted to residents making less than 50 to 60 percent of the area median income. That could range, according to Kevin Bunker, of Developers Collaborative, who is working with the authority on the project, from just over $17,000 a year in income for a single person in a one-unit apartment, up to $40,000 a year in income for a family in a three-bedroom unit.

Rents would range from $581 to $967.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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