At the Augusta City Council meeting set for Thursday, a decision will be made on whether to pursue development of the Hodgkins playing fields on the city’s east side. The drive to put another low-income elderly housing project on top of Malta Hill comes from state criteria for funding low-income housing for folks age 55 and over. According to Amanda Olson, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, if we are to have three such projects funded by the state, one of them must go at Hodgkins. The decision for the city is whether that third project is worth sacrificing the existing resources which are there in advance of the adoption of a long-term plan. In this piece we express no opinion on the merits of the other two projects to be considered by the city; we object only to the development of the Hodgkins site at this time.

The Hodgkins proposal would make the top of Malta Hill area one of the most urbanized, densely packed parts of Augusta‘s east side. Right next to the Augusta Nature Center. The council admits it is considering this development without a long-term plan, but promises that a long-term plan is coming very soon. We submit that the city should decide on a long-term plan of development first, before proceeds to develop the Hodgkins field.

An appropriate long-term plan and vision of the future would have the city linked by greenways through the urban areas, pedestrian-friendly streets, and walking trails in the wooded areas that remain. There should be parks and other open (play) areas accessible to everyone by foot. There is huge potential for this on both sides of the river. Much has been done, but much remains for the future. A long-term plan is critical.

There is nothing like the Hodgkins playing fields in this part of the city. Not at Hussey School, which has no fields. Not at Williams Park, where the remaining grassy areas are wet and uneven, and not at Cony High School, which fields are reserved for the students and opposing teams, as they should be. The Piggery Road fields are far, far away.

The Hodgkins playing fields are not only functional, they were a large capital investment. They are located at the edge of the Nature Center, which has a blueberry field and fox dens in the ledges just over the boundary from Hodgkins. The playing fields serve as a buffer for the Nature Center’s abundant wildlife. Generally, good long-term urban planning should involve retaining existing improved green space, and not chipping away at it.

When asked whether the city could somehow set aside the remaining playing field not necessary for the current proposal, Olsen answered that the entire Hodgkins property was within the scope of discussions between the housing authority and the former Augusta city manager.

There should be public discussion of whether we really do want to urbanize and age this area of the city further. Whether we want to concentrate this many low-income, older folk in this neighborhood. We have Hodgkins itself, and the old Cony High School, which already provide the exact same type of housing. There is a need for more of this type of housing for the city as a whole but it does not necessarily follow that the city should concentrate so much of that housing in one particular location.

We also have the Maple Street development at the bottom of the hill, which is subsidized low income but available to people of all ages. The Inn at City Hall is subsidized assisted living for old folks. All of these places are within a very short distance of Cony Circle.

If the city goes forward with the Hodgkins proposal now, it will have made the decision to further subsidize and age this east side area by default, with no actual long-term planning involved.

The conversions of the Old City Hall, Hodgkins middle school and the Cony Flatiron building all conserved existing capital infrastructure. Which is what the citizens of Augusta have historically wanted. The Hodgkins proposal permanently sacrifices a significant physical asset and green space gem without reference to a long-term plan, which should itself entail significant citizen input.

The city should not make this commitment and throw away the asset which is Hodgkins field without a long-term plan. This is especially true now when, we are told, a long-term plan is right around the corner.

We are only talking about one round of funding, one project out of three. We can always do the Hodgkins development later if it’s consistent with the city’s yet-to-be-seen long term plan. The real estate itself isn’t going anywhere.

The City Council should table the Hodgkins project at least until it has a long-term plan for development.

Edward and Cornelia Brown are residents of Augusta.

 


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