A view of Gows Lane in Hallowell on Wednesday. The lane runs between Water Street and Second Street. Developer Jim Pepin is planning to build six condo units at the location. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

HALLOWELL — Six new condo units may be coming to Water Street soon. While the Planning Board voted to approve the application itself, approval of the actual construction is contingent on aesthetic changes.

After hearing feedback from Hallowell Historic District consultant Scott Hanson, board members asked developer Jim Pepin and Jim Coffin of E.S. Coffin Engineering & Surveying if they could alter the look of the decks on the front of the building.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I think the issue is probably around how to break up what (Hanson) refers to lovingly as the 1980s motel motif,'” said second alternate Planning Board member Matthew Rolnick. “I think that’s an aesthetic thing that’s easy to address.”

Planning Board member Darryl Brown told Coffin that with the site plan approved, they would like to see what he and Pepin come up with after meeting with Hanson again about changing the decks.

“Personally, I like the new design of the building,” said Brown. “It looks more like a real house, but I’m not a big fan of the decks myself either. It does give it a hotel type of look.”

The project, called “Hallowell Townhouse Condos,” will be located on a 0.51-acre parcel of land in Hallowell’s Historic Downtown district at 211 Water Street, next to Gows Lane, and is estimated to cost $1.2 million. Each condo will have three floors, with the ground floor designated as garage space. The first floor will contain a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and deck, and the top floor will have bedrooms and an upper deck. The total height of the structure will be 32 feet and ten inches.

During the meeting, Pepin said that it is too early to say if the condos will be rented or sold. “I would hope that people want to buy the units,” said the developer. “If market conditions aren’t conducive I would rent them, but I really don’t want to do that. I’m putting up these units to sell them.”

During the city’s July 21 public hearing, several owners of abutting properties expressed concerns about increased traffic on Gows Lane, a steep, narrow roadway connecting Water Street and Second Street. Homeowners or tenants will be able to access the condos via Water Street, but utility vehicles such as garbage trucks would have to go to the back of the building, via Gows Lane, where the dumpsters will be located.

Elizabeth Betit, a resident who has lived on Gows Lane for five years, said that while she thought the project itself was attractive, she did have issues with the road being used in any capacity. Except for the space next to Hallowell Seafood, Betit said, the roadway is “barely one car wide.”

“The only place where two cars can come together is right at that opening onto Water Street, and it’s not the easiest street to get on,” she said. “The city can’t even send a plow truck down the street. They have to send a pickup truck with a blade on the front.”

Rolnick asked Coffin about the ability of garbage trucks to turn in the back area of the building, and Coffin said he applied a turning template to the design and that trucks would be able to maneuver as needed.

A view of Gows Lane on Wednesday in Hallowell. The lane runs between Water Street and Second Street. Developer Jim Pepin Six is planning to build six condo units at the location. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Planning Board Vice Chair Judy Feinstein asked if the size of the building could be reduced to eliminate the need for a back entrance via Gows Lane. Pepin replied it wouldn’t make sense economically. “There have to be enough units to make the project feasible,” the developer said. “I would prefer doing eight units, or ten units, or even 12 units, but clearly that’s not going to happen. From the standpoint of something that’s economically feasible, six units is the bare minimum.”

Hallowell Fire Chief James Owens responded to a question about whether a fire truck could approach the building via Gows Lane, and said his team would likely have to access the condos from the front entrance on Water Street. “If we needed to access the rear of the building, we would just park the truck on Gows Lane and stretch the hose lines down that driveway to the back,” he said.

He asked if the building contained sprinklers, and Coffin replied it did not.

After the public hearing closed, a motion was made to approve the site plan, with all but chairperson Danielle Obery approving. Obery explained that she primarily voted no because of the traffic concerns raised by Gows Lane residents.

“I live on a road like Gows Lane, except mine is a dead-end and it’s double the width,” she said. “It’s hellish in the winter. Putting any more traffic on that road is a nightmare. In the wintertime it becomes a luge run — so I can just imagine what Gows Lane is like.”

The board agreed to table approving the building, pending a visual of the aesthetic changes Pepin will make. Obery said the developer will return in August and present a different rendering for the board to consider.

“We’ll be back and we’ll have those decks looking better,” Pepin promised, “and hopefully we can move forward from that point.”


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