The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter seeks to buy the property at 8 Highwood St. in Waterville and renovate it into apartments for seniors and disabled adults with families, with some emergency units for the homeless. The City Council gave its approval Tuesday to rezoning the land so the project can move forward. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The City Council took a step toward alleviating the housing crisis in the city when it voted 7-0 on Tuesday night to approve rezoning 8 Highwood St. so it can be transformed into apartments for seniors, adults with disabilities and their families, and emergency units for homeless people.

It was a turnaround from a vote the council took May 3 to reject the rezoning request, with some councilors saying people in the neighborhood support housing but do not want it at that location, and further contending there were too many unanswered questions about the project. While more councilors voted for than against — the tally was 4-3 — rezoning requires a supermajority vote, so the request initially failed.

Councilor Tom McCormick, an independent representing Ward 7, asked May 6 that the council reconsider its vote because he said there is a critical need for housing in the city. He and Councilors Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, and Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, had initially voted against the plan but then joined other councilors last week in a 7-0 preliminary vote in support of it. Foss at the time urged neighborhood residents and homeless shelter officials to discuss the matter to try to resolve some issues and find common ground before the council took its final vote Tuesday.

The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter wants to buy the vacant building on Highwood Street and develop about 80% of it into apartments for seniors and families, and 20% into emergency housing.

The homeless shelter held a public discussion Monday about the project, seeking to answer questions and provide information to neighbors and others. Morris, in whose ward the Highwood Street building is located, attended that meeting.

He told councilors Tuesday night that over the past week, more information was made available about the project, progress had been made in discussions and explanations were provided as to why the housing is needed.


He said neighborhood residents are positive about the project but concerned about its execution.

Foss said he is happy both sides could discuss the issue, which is what he had hoped would happen.

“It’s encouraging,” Foss said. “That’s what we need in this society is more talking instead of butting heads.”

Jessie Morris of Central Avenue said she and her family moved to the neighborhood 18 years ago from Bangor to be in a safe area, and she has concerns about the project. She said she also was representing others in the neighborhood who could not attend the meeting.

“They want to put their homes up for sale and move,” Morris said. “I’m afraid of losing my neighborhood and losing my community because of this.”

Having another apartment building would cause more stress to the family environment, according to Morris.


“I do have a lot of compassion for people who need an apartment,” she said, “but I’m also concerned for the safety of my neighborhood.”

Katie Spencer White, president and CEO of the homeless shelter, has said those living in the building would be vetted and receive support, including case management, and members of the shelter staff would be available to tenants.

In other matters Tuesday, the City Council took a final vote to rezone 72 Pleasant St. and 5 Middle St. to allow for Ware-Butler Building Supply to use the office on the site for its corporate offices and the parking lot for people in those offices.

Councilors voted 6-1 to contract with Fitch & Associates for $60,000 to analyze the Fire Department’s EMS Services at the request of fire Chief Shawn Esler. Councilors engaged in a lengthy discussion about the request, with Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, saying he thought such a large expenditure should go before the city’s finance committee.

The city partners with Delta Ambulance for EMS services, and two years ago Esler, Councilor Morris and Mayor Jay Coelho convinced the city to buy an ambulance so the Fire Department could transport patients as a way of alleviating delays and generating revenue.

Esler said Fitch’s study could show whether it is better for the city to end its contract with Delta Ambulance and be the sole provider of ambulance services for the city. He produced numbers that he said show the city can make enough revenue to go on its own.


Morris and Coelho advocated for having a study done by Fitch, which officials said did a similar study for Delta. Coelho said that eight times over the past three weeks, members of the Fire Department had to cover for Delta workers who were not available. Coelho urged the city to end its contract with Delta and go on its own. The city would generate more revenue by doing so, he said.

“At some point, somebody’s going to get tired of this nonsense,” Coelho said. “I know I am, but I don’t vote on nothing.”

Council Chairperson Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, urged the council to table the matter until the next meeting.

“It is a big-ticket item,” she said, “and I think it has to be considered within the context of the budget.”

Francke said the study would include six months of collecting and analyzing data and the issuance of a report, with all of that taking about a year. He said he did not see why the council had to rush a decision.

“This council has become a ‘leap before you look’ council, and I think it’s time to stop that,” he said.

Green’s motion to table discussion to the next meeting failed. The council then voted 6-1 to approve the contract with Fitch, with Francke the lone dissenter.

Green hesitated to vote in favor, but said she was doing so because she did think decisions have to be based on data. She said she wanted to be clear, however, that the City Council, in its vote, is talking about serving the city and not the broader region.

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