AUGUSTA — A proposal to build 29 units of affordable rental housing on part of the city-owned former Statler mill site is drawing concern about traffic access and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood, casting doubt on potential future development on the riverside site.

The Planning Board, citing concern that Maple Street is inadequate to provide access to the site, postponed consideration of the plan Tuesday night. The board voted unanimously to table discussion of the project until Jan. 2 after more than three hours of debate.

The proposal, made by the Augusta Housing Authority to provide affordable housing for working people, calls for 29 units in three buildings, a reduction of an earlier plan calling for 34 units in six buildings.

Housing officials said the 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 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 a month.

Multiple board members said Tuesday night they thought Maple Street, the only road access planned for the development, is too narrow to be the only way in and out of the former mill site, even though the city staff indicated access on the residential street is adequate and meets city ordinance standards. The staff also warned board members against holding the developers of the housing project responsible for any potential future development near their project that is beyond their control.

Augusta officials have said they hope to see other redevelopment take place in the area. Some board members, after hearing the concerns of neighbors, said they couldn’t support the project without additional access to the site.

“The discussion boils down … a project of this magnitude is inconsistent with neighborhood compatibility, based largely on access and egress,” said A. Delaine Nye, a Planning Board member. “What I want them to come back with is elevation drawings and, more importantly, to address my concerns about access through Maple Street. How can they come up with an alternate access, is there anything they can do to improve access to alleviate our concerns?”

Board member Corey Vose said developers of future projects on the city-owned site could seek to use the same Maple Street access point, which is one of two access routes to the former mill site. Drum Barker Road, which is not maintained now, used to provide access to the northern end of the property, about a mile away from the housing proposal on the southern end.

Lionel Cayer, Augusta’s city engineer, and Matt Nazar, city development director, both said Maple Street isn’t much different from many other residential streets in Augusta. At 22 to 26 feet wide, the street meets standards required for the additional traffic expected from the housing development, and it is wider than many streets in Augusta, they said.

“This residential street is really not narrow compared to our residential street standard,” Cayer said. “So with these 29 units going in, my professional opinion is there is capacity on Maple Street for these units.”

Nazar said the board’s decision about whether to approve the project or not should not be based on board members’ concerns about future development elsewhere on the property.

“I would not hold this development hostage for what may happen in the future on the Statler site,” he said.

Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, said the agency reduced the size of the project in response to neighbors’ concerns.

“After meeting with neighbors and hearing concerns about neighborhood compatibility and traffic, we scaled that back to 29 units and three buildings,” she said.

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.

Joyce Grondin, whose Maple Street home would be two houses away from the new apartments, said neighborhood residents signed a petition opposing the project. She said children who live in the apartment complex could get hurt, either on the Statler property or while trespassing by at an adjacent metal scrapyard, which is closed.

“Maple Street is the only entrance into this, which I think is inappropriate and irresponsible for the city, to allow that,” Grondin said, adding that the road is too narrow, especially when it has snowbanks in the winter. “The appropriate infrastructure is not in place to put anything there at this time. I think the city needs to take charge and do something to design appropriate entrances.”

Steve Bushey, a consultant for Stantec working on the project, said the apartments would be expected to generate an additional 18 trips during the peak morning commuting hour and 34 trips during the peak evening commuting hour, well below state standards that would require the project obtain a traffic movement permit.

Linda Weymouth, of Maple Street, said the site is close to the Kennebec River and children who would live in the apartments could be at risk of drowning.

Kevin Bunker, of Developers Collaborative, who is working with the authority on the project, said if no development is allowed anywhere there are vacant properties, bodies of water, or fences, out of concern that children could be injured, then not much development could occur anywhere. He noted there are already 48 units of housing on Maple Street.

The housing authority, which is independent of the city, would build the 29 apartments on about 3 acres, on the southern end and toward the rear, nonriver-side portion of the nearly mile-long, 20-acre property, which the city acquired from a mill owner in 2009 for nonpayment of taxes.

The mill closed in 2000. Before that, it had operated under various owners for 125 years.

The city has since renamed the site Kennebec Lockes, and officials hope to see it be redeveloped.

Board member Tom Connors suggested if the city wants to see the rest of the property developed, it might be better to provide better access to the site now, rather than relying on Maple Street. He said that appears to be the city’s responsibility, not the developer’s. He expressed concern that Maple Street might not be able to handle emergency vehicle access to the apartments site.

Nazar said access to the site, depending on what sort of future development takes place there, also could be provided via Drum Barker Road on the north end of the property or, possibly, from Willow Street across a now privately owned metal scrapyard property. But he said the housing authority proposal could stand alone on the site and access for future development to the site should be a different discussion than the one needed for the housing proposal.

In October, city councilors, in a 4-3 vote decided by Mayor David Rollins’ tie-breaking vote, agreed to lease, probably at no cost, a portion of the city-owned land on the Kennebec Lockes site to the Augusta Housing Authority so the authority can develop housing on it.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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