The proposed Gardiner Green development is being proposed for this former MaineGeneral property on Dresden Avenue. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Paul Boghossian came to the Gardiner Planning Board workshop Thursday with a conceptual plan for a pocket neighborhood he’d like to develop at the site of MaineGeneral’s Dresden Avenue facility.

With a combination of adaptive reuse of existing buildings and new construction, Boghossian wants to transform about 5 acres of property into a mix of apartments and condominium units called Gardiner Green.

But neighbors on Dresden Avenue and several adjacent streets worry that a project that could more than double the number of residences on the road will change the character of their neighborhood and affect their quality of life.

Dresden Avenue runs roughly parallel to the Kennebec River, from the Gardiner Common to Cottage Street. The majority of the homes on Dresden Avenue, many on large lots, were built between the 1840s and the 1920s.

Boghossian’s development would be on the site of the MaineGeneral facility, where a hospital has stood since about 1918. The current hospital building, which he’s proposing to to convert to apartments, was built about five decades ago.

“What we’re looking to do here is a pocket neighborhood,” he said at the start of his presentation in the truck bay of the Gardiner Fire Station. “It’s a very intimate way for people to live, where the building structures, the built environment, is clustered together, which frees up substantial open space for the residents and for the neighborhood to enjoy.”

The goal is to promote interaction among the residents, Boghossian said, and to create a beautiful neighborhood.

His initial application, which has since been withdrawn, outlined a three-phase $6.6 million project to develop 68 planned residences, a combination of apartments and condominium units.

The property, like most in-town properties, is zoned for high-density residential development and the use as Boghossian has proposed is allowed, subject to performance standards set out in city code.

Paul Boghossian discusses the Gardiner Green development proposal Thursday night in Gardiner. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

Boghossian said he’d received guidance that indicated he could put up to 68 units on the property, but Planning Board Chairwoman Debby Willis said the property as it now stands can accommodate only 43 or 44.

Earlier this year, MaineGeneral vacated the property, moving the practices and functions housed there to its new facility on Brunswick Avenue, not far from the Exit 49 interchange on Interstate 295.

Jim Spellman, real estate manager for MaineGeneral Medical Center, said the Dresden Avenue property has become obsolete. Feasibility studies showed bringing it to current standards would cost millions. Hospital officials approached the city about options.

“We were kind of pushed in the direction of a residential community,” he said. “It was incumbent on me to find someone to buy it at that point.”

He opted to contact Boghossian, who he knew from the Hathaway Creative Center where MaineGeneral leases about 80,000 square feet.

“We felt he had integrity. MaineGeneral has been here for a long time, and we never felt we wanted to just dump the property on someone who wouldn’t do the project well.”

The hospital is now in final negotiations to sell the property to Boghossian.

In his presentation, Boghossian said many of the renderings were placeholders and likely to change as the project progresses, but he was committed to quality construction and fine finishes. He could not say now what the price of condominium townhouses might be, as they would come in later phases, but he estimated that rents for the apartments may start around $700 month for a 288-square-foot studio apartment and go up from there.

More than a dozen residents spoke up, many taking aim at the changes the development would bring to the neighborhood. Several specifically said they didn’t want to see apartments, which they said could bring in a transient population unlikely to put down roots. They also questioned whether Boghossian would be providing affordable or Section 8 housing, a federal housing assistance program for low-income families.

They also challenged his assertion that traffic on and off the property would be less than what it had been when hospital facilities were occupied.

James Montell speaks during a meeting Thursday about the proposed Gardiner Green project. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

“I will not stand by for the wholesale destruction of Dresden Avenue, so help me God,” James Montell said, standing facing the crowd, and earned a round of applause.

Montell said only two homes on Dresden Avenue are multi-unit residences — on a street of 42 homes. Some people in the city might want to see something done with the property, he said, but not wholesale destruction.

“What you’re trying to do is too great, too fast, too soon,” Montell said.

He questioned whether apartment dwellers would stay for more than a year at a time, and would be only temporary residents. And the people who would live in studio apartments are not the people who would live on Dresden Avenue, he said.

“It’s up to you, the people I’m addressing here,” Montell said. “We’re not snobs. It’s a nice neighborhood. It seldom changes. None of us likes change.”

He urged Boghossian to come back with a plan that’s livable.

Karen Montell grew up on Dresden Avenue and returned as an adult to buy a house not far from her childhood home.

“This isn’t your neighborhood, this is our neighborhood,” she said, indicating families in the audience who have lived on the street for years. “There are other abandoned places, not only in our city but in other cities.

“You are not an answer to our prayers. We may think sometimes it’s an eyesore, but this isn’t what we’re looking for,” Karen Montell added. “So I plead with the Planning Board to listen to the people who have spoken tonight.”

Phyllis Gardiner, who lives on Oaklands Farm Road, where Dresden Avenue ends and not far from the proposed development, asked that residents keep open minds about what’s being proposed. It was a conceptual plan and not a final application, and they were giving feedback and suggestions about what they might want to see.

Gardiner acknowledged the pent-up frustration and anger because people felt like they were not going to be heard and that the Planning Board was poised to make a final decision on the application before they could be heard.

“We should keep our minds open to see what he comes back with,” Gardiner said. “We should be willing to have dialog. That’s what the Heart and Soul process was all about, that we were going to help shape our neighborhoods by getting engaged.

“This is wonderful proof that we’re all here, getting engaged,” she added. “That’s a positive thing, but only if we can approach it in a collaborative and constructive way.”

Boghossian said he thinks his proposal fits in the neighborhood.

“Are there certain things we can do better? That’s why we’re here tonight,” he said.

Willis, who said she had received emails in support of the proposal, said once an application has been submitted to the Planning Board and it is found to be complete, the board will review the performance standards set out in city ordinances to ensure the project meets those standards.

She said public hearings are a part of the process, so residents have a chance to have their say.

“If we set performance criteria in an application, the applicant has to meet them,” Willis said.

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