AUGUSTA — It looks like a 250-unit apartment complex could be coming to Civic Center Drive.

The city will change the zoning of a parcel there where apartment buildings are not allowed now so a proposal to build apartments there aimed at medical workers can move forward.

City officials and representatives of the developer said while multi-family housing is not otherwise a permitted use in the Planned Development District that covers the area, the city’s comprehensive plan identifies it as an one of significant growth where mixed uses should be allowed.

Donald Smith, a partner in Massachusetts-based Saxon Partners LLC, developer of the proposed project, said the company is building similar complexes around the country, with a goal of providing housing near hospitals for medical and other area employees looking for short commutes to work.

Ideally, they are close enough so hospital employees could walk or bike from their apartments to work, though currently there is neither a sidewalk nor bike path that would connect the proposed development at 375-391 Civic Center Drive to the MaineGeneral Medical Center just off Old Belgrade Road. By road, the two sites are about two miles apart; directly through the woods, however, the two properties are less than a mile apart.

“Ideally we’d like to have a walking connection to the hospital,” Smith told city councilors who approved the zone change last week in a unanimous vote. “If we can connect with a bike path, we’d love to do that, too.”

Smith said the company would work with the city on how it might provide safer pedestrian access from the property, where there currently are no sidewalks on Civic Center Drive. He said they’ve already met to begin those discussions.

“I’d encourage you to maybe build a sidewalk out there,” Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said to the project developer before voting to approve the zone change last week.

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Lind and other councilors noted the area, where there are hotels, restaurants and offices, is already seeing increased pedestrian traffic.

Saxon officials said the company has extensive holdings in housing, but is on a new venture building studio and one-bedroom apartments near large hospitals, seeking to rent to medical and other employees at market rates. The company is also developing similar housing near hospitals elsewhere across the country, including in New Hampshire, Lewiston-Auburn and Biddeford.

Asked if the complex could be expanded beyond the 250 apartments the zone change allows, Gene Beaudoin, director of residential development for Saxon, said expansion is not in their plans.

“These are being built across the country as units of about 240,” Beaudoin said. “And they’re not generally expected to expand. They’re sort of freestanding. And this is about what we think is necessary for this marketplace.”

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

Smith said the apartments will be rented out primarily on one-year leases but some could be rented out shorter-term, such as on three-month leases.

Constructing the project will still require site plan approval from the Planning Board. The board recommended the zoning change but the actual proposal must still be reviewed by the board, a process which includes opportunities for neighbors or other members of the public to comment on the plans.

The apartments would be in two new proposed buildings that would be built in a field just over a ridge on a 15-acre lot between the Augusta Elks Lodge and the recently constructed headquarters of the Maine National Guard, Camp Chamberlain, with an access driveway at the intersection of Civic Center Drive and Leighton Road, where there is already a traffic signal.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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