The South Portland City Council has preliminarily approved a zoning change to accommodate a $9 million affordable-housing project at the site of the former St. John the Evangelist Church on Route 1.

Councilors voted 5-2 in favor of the change last week, and are scheduled to cast a final vote next week.

The Thornton Heights property includes the church, parish house and a school building, and has been vacant for four years. The South Portland Housing Authority is proposing a 42-unit apartment building for the site to expand access to affordable housing. The building’s first floor would be leased as retail space.

The zoning change was recommended by the Planning Board in March. If approved by the council, the project will return to the Planning Board for site plan review.

To allow the 42-unit development and three additional house lots, the housing authority wants the city to rezone the rear acre of the property, which is in a Residential A zone, to conform with the rest of the parcel, which is in the Main Street Community Commercial zone. The property is bounded by Main Street, Aspen Avenue and Thirlmere Avenue.

The housing authority is under contract to purchase the 2-acre property from Cafua Management for $1.2 million. Cafua is the Methuen, Massachusetts-based company that bought the property in 2013 with the aim of building a drive-through Dunkin’ Donuts. That proposal was abandoned after it provoked vigorous opposition from neighborhood residents opposed to the scale of the proposal.

The housing authority will apply for a federal low-income housing tax credit to help fund its project. Brooks More, the authority’s director of development, said four applications are usually selected each year, based on a point system for specific criteria, including the cost to build each unit.

He said the building will not be financially viable unless it includes at least 40 units.

Councilor Claude Morgan and Mayor Linda Cohen were the dissenters in the 5-2 vote. Morgan said the project is too large for the neighborhood.

In three meetings with the housing authority, some Thornton Heights residents have said the project will disrupt the character of the neighborhood and cause problems with traffic and density. Others have said they support public housing, want to attract more families to the area, and are open to ideas presented by the agency.

To qualify for affordable housing, a single person would be allowed to make no more than $28,000 per year, and a family of four would have an annual income limit of $41,000. Rents would range from $770 per month for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,081 for a three-bedroom unit, More said.

If the authority plan moves forward, construction could begin as early as fall 2019, with completion expected a year later.

Juliette Laaka can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 106, or at:

[email protected]

Twitter @JulietteLaaka

 

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