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

GARDINER — Officials at MaineGeneral Medical Center knew when they started looking for a new site for Gardiner Family Medicine that they would have to decide what to do with the Dresden Avenue facilities.

But they didn’t know how contentious their plans to dispose of some of the health center’s property would be.

At the end of July, Dresden Avenue residents turned out in force to a workshop hosted by the city of Gardiner with developer Paul Boghossian, who is proposing to redevelop the 5-acre hospital property into a phased “pocket neighborhood” by converting the hospital building into apartments and building townhouse condominium units.

He brought with him conceptual plans for the development, noting that nothing had been finalized.

At that meeting, resident after resident stood up to say they didn’t want that kind of development on Dresden Avenue, which is a well-established neighborhood. They said a high-density residential development would change their neighborhood’s character. While not everyone opposed the townhouses, most opposed the proposed apartments.

They said they were also let down because they were unaware of the plans that were in the works to redevelop the property.

Standing in a parking lot of the Dresden Avenue facility last week Stein, MaineGeneral Medical Center’s chief operating officer, acknowledged to dozens of area residents gathered there that his organization should have met with the Dresden Avenue neighborhood when making decisions about the fate of the property.

“One missed step we had along the way, and this is lessons learned: We had some conversations with the city, but we should have gone out to the neighborhood,” Stein said. “I’ll own that.”

Stein said hospital officials had decided to relocate the Gardiner operations to a new facility because renovating the existing buildings to current standards would be too costly.

“We would have had to put more money into these buildings than it was worth to make them efficient,” he said. “Our commitment isn’t to sell these buildings and try to get the highest dollar. What’s more important is how does it enhance the community?”

The decision to dispose of the Dresden Avenue property is not a new one.

In 2015, Stein signed a letter of intent with the city, signaling his organization’s plans to take part in the process of finding a developer for the former T.W. Dick properties on Summer Street.

Gardiner officials had acquired the industrial properties and had pursued state and federal brownfields funds to clean up contamination so it could be redeveloped. And hospital officials had expressed interest in relocating Gardiner Family Practice and other functions to that site.

MaineGeneral ultimately chose a site on Brunswick Avenue  for Gardiner Family Medicine, its Express Care facility and its other Gardiner laboratory and imaging facilities.

At the neighborhood meeting, Stein said MaineGeneral signed a purchase and sale agreement with Boghossian early this year.

Hospital and city officials had met in 2019 about the Dresden Avenue property, and city officials had identified residential development as a need in the city. That’s when hospital officials started looking for a residential developer for the property.

Stein said among the developers they contacted, Boghossian was the only one who responded. Boghossian had redeveloped the Hathaway Center in Waterville, where MaineGeneral currently leases space.

Stein said Boghossian is currently doing his due diligence on the site. Under the agreement that was signed and has been extended twice, Boghossian may cancel the deal, but hospital officials cannot.

Boghossian had initially planned on more than 60 units. But city officials, in reviewing the site, determined that no more than 43 or 44 units could be created on the property, which is zoned for high-density residential development.

Debby Willis, chairwoman of the Gardiner Planning Board, said at Thursday’s meeting that city officials can’t yet say what Boghossian is proposing because he hasn’t submitted a completed application for the Planning Board to review.

As of Monday, it wasn’t clear that the Planning Board would have an application to consider when it meets Sept. 8.

Stein said Boghossian’s current extension expires at the end of September, and he’s not inclined to recommend to the hospital’s board of directors that it be extended a third time.

If it does expire, he said, hospital officials will seek out another buyer for the property.

“We would sit down with the city, but this time, we would invite the community members into the conversation.”

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