The eastern elevation view of an affordable housing project at 99 Western Ave., Augusta, is seen in an artist’s rendering. Courtesy of Mastway Development, LLC

AUGUSTA — The Planning Board, in an outcome settled only after the acting chairman broke a tie vote, has voted to recommend a zoning change required for a proposal to build 38 units of affordable workforce housing on Western Avenue.

The proposal from Matt Morrill, of Mastway Development, developer of Stevens Commons in Hallowell, would demolish a long-vacant and dilapidated building at 99 Western Ave. and build a new apartment building with 11 studio apartments and 27 one-bedroom apartments.

Morrill and some planning board members said the apartments would help address a glaring need for more housing in Augusta.

“We all know the amount of housing we’re behind in Augusta, and we have to start sometime,” said Bob Trask, board member.

But opponents said the development would bring more traffic and more people a quiet neighborhood of single family homes, a couple of lots away from Western Avenue on Pike Street. That would be the apartment building’s only access point, and it would be built on a lot not big enough to accommodate that many people, opponents said.

Critics also said there are already frequent car crashes involving traffic turning from the eastbound lanes of Western Avenue onto Pike Street, from what neighbors described as a blind hill on the avenue there. They also said at 38 parking spots for 38 units, it wouldn’t have enough parking, so tenants or their visitors would likely park on Pike Street.


“It’ll be between 38 and 76 more residents. That’s going to make our neighborhood a lot more full of people, and it’s a quiet neighborhood,” said Pike Street resident Fred Roig.. “There have been some nasty crashes there. There’s no space for children to play. Where are they going to play? In the parking lot? On Western Avenue? It’s not a great fit for a project as large as this.”

Morrill agreed with some neighbors and board members who expressed concerns about traffic on the busy four-lane Western Avenue, but he and officials also said that’s an issue bigger than one particular housing proposal that will likely need to be addressed by the city. Especially if the now heavily commercial Western Avenue morphs into more of a mix of commercial and residential uses.

“I think the more residential we have on Western Avenue, the more that forces and pushes the city to address some of these problems,” said Scott Moucka, a resident of nearby Drew Street. “I’d like to see Western Avenue become more walkable, more pedestrian-friendly, cyclist friendly. I certainly don’t want people to suffer to achieve that, but I think having residential uses on Western Avenue will force the city, long-term, to address those issues.”

The building has been vacant for about 15 years, and City Planner Betsy Poulin described it as a mix of architecture that most recently was an office building which is “one of the biggest eyesores, probably, in the city right now.”

In 2020 developer Jim Pepin proposed to build a new 50-unit apartment building for senior citizens at the site and sought a waiver from some city zoning rules, such as setbacks from the street and the normally required number of parking spaces. He said the waivers were required to make the project financially feasible. However, the Planning Board voted against recommending a proposed contract zone including those waivers and the project died.

Morrill would also need a contract zone agreement with the city to move forward, because as proposed it would exceed the city’s floor ratio area standards, which regulate the amount of floor area of developments as compared to the total lot area.


Board members voted 4-3 Tuesday to recommend that contract zoning agreement be approved for the project. Board members initially tied 3-3, with Bob Corey, acting chairman of the meeting, casting the deciding vote in favor.

The proposed contract zone next goes to the City Council, where at least one additional public hearing would be held to consider it.

Morrill, an Augusta resident, said the target audience for the apartments would generally be single people without kids who work in the service industry, such as waiters and nurses. He said the site isn’t big enough to be a good spot for families, due to the small size of the building and lack of greenspace around it.

He said the project would be funded in part by MaineHousing funds and MaineHousing requires such projects to have permits in place and show they have a likelihood of going forward. He said MaineHousing wants the project to have its approvals in place by mid-September. They have a purchase option on the property that runs into October, and they gave themselves six months to ready it. If they don’t meet that timeframe, “we’ll most likely move on and look at other projects.”

Morrill said they need to be able to build at least 38 units to make it affordable, especially with the current high prices of labor and construction materials.

“We’ve built several projects throughout the area, and time after time the common theme seems to be affordable housing, and that’s what has pushed us in this direction.” Morrill said. “Now, high construction costs, lack of workforce, and low numbers of materials and subcontractors have driven the cost through the roof. So what we’re trying to do here in Augusta is take a small bite out of that need for affordable housing in the area.”

If the City Council approves of the contract zone, the apartment project itself would still need approval from the Planning Board following a site plan review.

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