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 — A proposal to remake an obsolete hospital property into residential units in Gardiner has passed an early hurdle and is expected to move ahead.

On Tuesday, the Gardiner Planning Board reviewed the revised proposal by developer Paul Boghossian — who is planning to build a “pocket neighborhood” on the site of the former Gardiner Family Medicine practice on Dresden Avenue — detailed in a subdivision preliminary plan application.

After more than three hours of review and deliberation, the Planning Board determined the proposal is adequate for him to submit the final plan with a series of additions for further consideration.

Boghossian is planning to develop the existing hospital and associated buildings at 150-152 Dresden Ave. into 34 apartments and 17 condominium units of different sizes; currently some of the apartments are being termed affordable.

He said he was initially approached by hospital officials to develop this site as housing because it was understood at the time that that is what city officials favored.

“These units would be priced so that the hospital’s employees in Gardiner can live in them,” he said.

The project has drawn the attention and ire of neighbors in the established residential neighborhood. While the homes, mostly built between the 1860s and 1920s, sit on large lots in that neighborhood, the area is zoned for high density residential use, which is what Boghossian is proposing.

While he has been asked to lessen the density of residential units by adding office space, that’s not allowed in high-density residential zoning under the city’s Land Use Ordinance.

In July, Boghossian gave a presentation to neighbors, describing his approach and general plans for the project. While the final designs were not available, he said he wanted to rehabilitate the existing buildings into apartments and condominium units and build new condominium units on the site at a cost of about $6.6 million.

At that point, he had signed a purchase and sale agreement with MaineGeneral, and was conducting his due diligence on the site.

Residents of Dresden Avenue and neighboring streets turned out in force to protest the development, particularly the addition of apartments.

About a month later, many of the same people turned out at a community meeting on the hospital property where MaineGeneral Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Paul Stein explained the hospital doesn’t want to own the property or invest in it further.

In October 2019, Gardiner Family Medicine completed its relocation to Central Maine Crossing on Brunswick Avenue, near the Exit 49 interchange on Interstate 295, leaving most of the hospital’s facilities on Dresden Avenue vacant, although the memory care facility remains open.

On Tuesday, Lisa St. Hilaire and Ian Burns, both neighborhood residents, spoke up on behalf of their neighbors and provided comments to the board.

Among their concerns is the number of units planned. Neighbors say that no information has been provided about those units and that the promise of affordable units is solely to qualify the project for a so-called density bonus, which allows more units per acre to be built if some of them are targeted for low-income tenants.

They are also concerned that part of the proposal includes an oddly shaped and largely undevelopable lot that was used to achieve the lot size needed to build the number of units proposed.

And they want to know the impact the development would have on storm water runoff, the amount of land that would be covered by buildings or paving and how that would affect the stream that runs through or next to the property as well as nearby imperiled wetlands.

They also detailed a series of concerns about how the property will be developed, but those were not a part of the Planning Board’s review on Tuesday.

“We understand that change is inevitable and understand how a viable re-use of this site benefits the city,” they wrote in provided comments. “We look forward to welcoming potential new neighbors. We only ask that the Planning Board balances progress with reasonable accommodations to ensure that any development is consistent with the protections afforded by the Gardiner Land Use Ordinance and the vision reflected in Gardiner’s Comprehensive Plan.”

The board asked that additional information be submitted with the final plan, including information on any deed restrictions, information about use of internal roadways, information about whether a stream flows through part of the property and the location of the wetland in relation to the property and a topographical map of the site that details elevation changes on the property.

The question of the requirements attached to providing affordable housing has been referred to the city’s attorney.

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