AUGUSTA — The Planning Board unanimously voted to recommend zoning changes proposed to allow a 250-unit apartment complex on Civic Center Drive, across from the heavily traveled street’s intersection with Leighton Road, in a zone where multi-family housing is not allowed currently.

The proposal from Saxon Partners LLC for land owned by YaYa’s Backyard Inc. and George and Shirley Ezzy, who own a home located on the property, calls for construction of two three-story buildings that would contain a total of 250 studio and one-bedroom apartments. The new rental units, according to application materials filed with the city, would offer housing options for employees of the nearby MaineGeneral Medical Center and other surrounding medical facilities. The Massachusetts-based Saxon, according to the application materials, recently initiated a program developing apartment buildings targeting employees of major hospitals, meant to provide housing within easy commutes of their workplaces.

The 15-acre site is in the Planned Development District, where multiple-family dwellings are not permitted. Deputy City Planner Betsy Poulin noted in a review of the proposal, however, the property is in a location identified as an economic growth area in the 2007 Comprehensive Plan, which encourages mixed uses including some residential development, especially high-density residential units.

The property, with addresses of 375, 377, 379 and 391 Civic Center Drive, is just south of the Augusta Elks Lodge. The apartment buildings would be accessed from a new private road to be built at the Civic Center Drive and Leighton Road intersection, where there is a traffic signal.

The developer of the project seeks a contract rezone agreement with the city, to allow multi-family dwellings on the specific site of the development. The rezone would have to be approved by city councilors, so Planning Board members Tuesday were asked to make a recommendation to the City Council on whether to allow the contract rezoning. If the contract rezoning is approved by councilors, the project still would need to come back to the Planning Board.

Local housing officials have said Augusta has a shortage of quality rental units, resulting in significant unmet demand for housing.

The project application states that apartments in Augusta have waiting lists of two or more people for each unit, on average, and the project could help meet that need and serve as a new, modern housing option for the more than 2,660 MaineGeneral employees who work within a half-mile of the proposed development.

“It’s multi-family housing close to a major hospital; that’s the attraction to Augusta,” said James Bass, a local attorney representing the developer, Saxon.

The review by the city staff states development in north Augusta has been booming, primarily with medical, government and retail facilities, and commuters are driving there from around the area. The review also notes, “Having affordable housing in close proximity to this employment center is beneficial for increased quality of life and reduction of vehicular traffic.”

A traffic study, which would indicate how much traffic the development is expected to bring to local streets, has not yet been completed but would be required by the state Department of Transportation for the project to be approved.

The site would be near the recently constructed Camp Chamberlain, headquarters of the Maine National Guard, which opened this year, and where about 260 Guard members work.

The developer said in its application the apartment buildings would be set back from the road, just over a high ridge line. It said two parcels of land with frontage on Civic Center Drive, on either side of the proposed entrance road, are planned for future commercial development, “most likely incorporating a small restaurant, retail, and/or office buildings.”

About 25 people attended Tuesday’s public hearing.

Paul Roy, speaking for the Augusta Elks Lodge, expressed concerns events at the club, such as outdoor concerts or ballgames, could draw complaints about noise or light from residents of the proposed complex, which would be built in what is now an empty field. He said he’d be opposed to the project if it did not include a buffer between the neighboring properties.

Board members said issues such as landscaping to buffer the proposed development from its neighbors would be discussed if and when the project itself comes back to the Planning Board for approval.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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