A bicyclist rides past St. Augustine’s Church on Monday in Augusta’s Sand Hill neighborhood. Local officials are considering using pandemic relief funds to incentivize people to buy apartment buildings in the area, fix them and live in them. The plan would improve a historic neighborhood that fell into disrepair and help address the city’s housing shortage, officials said. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Officials seeking to revitalize the Sand Hill area of the city say providing incentives to encourage owner-occupied rental housing could help restore the neighborhood’s sense of pride.

Leaders of an ad hoc committee studying ways to revitalize the areas of Sand Hill and the north end of Water Street, said in a recent update to city councilors revitalizing that area’s aging apartment buildings to make the area cleaner and more inviting will take time and money.

And they’re looking to the formerly Franco-American immigrant neighborhood’s past to try to give it a better outlook for the future.

Pat Paradis, a former city councilor and co-chairman of the committee, said back when the since-destroyed Edwards Manufacturing mill brought Franco-American and other immigrants to Augusta, many families established housing together in multi-level apartment buildings, with parents living on the first floor and renting out the upper floors to members of their family.

Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud, co-chairman of the committee, said back in those days a sense of pride prompted those building owners to maintain their yards, which he quipped were so clean “you could eat off (them).”

“But over the several decades of turnover, families moved away and those properties were sold,” Michaud added.


He said many of the landlords who took their place were absentee investors, and didn’t care about the appearance of their properties. To that point, Paradis said, now nearly every street in the neighborhood has one or more buildings that need to be rehabilitated, or just demolished, because they are no longer safe to live in.

“A lot of them are gone,” Paradis said of Sand Hill residents living in the buildings they also rent out to tenants. “So you have other people come in, a lot of times they do very bad service to the buildings, because they’re just floating by Augusta for a year or two then they’re leaving. So we want to rescue that kind of apartment. If you do a spot here, a spot there, it doesn’t have to be the whole street, but it shows the importance, to other landlords, to bring them up to speed, to bring them up to code. So that’s what we’re trying to do. But we need the money.”

The city is currently seeking proposals from contractors to clean up trash, brush and undergrowth on public properties in the Sand Hill area, such as city parks and sidewalks, according to City Manager Susan Robertson. The roughly $50,000 project would be funded with money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Michaud suggested also using American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide incentives for people to purchase apartment buildings in the neighborhood, fix them up and live in them. Other councilors expressed support for finding ways to encourage owner-occupied housing, to both improve the area but also provide more housing to help address the current housing shortage.

“The biggest thing that can happen there is to get owner-occupied homes incentivized,” said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins. “And if we can get the renovation funds to provide a program by which we incentivize people coming in and being owner-occupied, and it sounds like this is happening there now with the Iraqi community, where these are families and they’re earning a living here. And that’s where pride of ownership comes in. That’s going to turn everything around up there.”

Mainly Groceries on Northern Avenue in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Councilor At Large Courtney Gary-Allen said Iraqi families living on Sand Hill have revamped one end of Washington Street a great deal and encouraged the committee to involve them in its effort, which Michaud and Paradis said they would welcome.


“Sand Hill was born as an ethnic neighborhood, and you know, it’s getting back to its roots; it’s just a different culture,” Michaud said. “We certainly welcome any input or involvement from the Iraqi community that want to be part of this. A good deal of them call that home now. It’s their future as much as anyone else’s who lives on the hill now. We don’t want to turn a blind eye to anyone who will help make that neighborhood a safe, clean, happy, friendly, family-oriented neighborhood.”

Gary-Allen, who said she grew up poor on Sand Hill, cautioned against development on Sand Hill that might drive away low-income families who live there now, in response to Michaud describing how the Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland transformed from a run-down area 40 years ago to what is now one of the most affluent parts of Portland.

Northern Avenue in the Sand Hill neighborhood of Augusta. Local officials are considering using pandemic relief funds to incentivize people to buy apartment buildings in the area, fix them and live in them. The plan would improve a historic neighborhood that fell into disrepair and help address the city’s housing shortage, officials said. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“We’re not looking to make Sand Hill, Munjoy Hill,” Michaud said. The committee wants a mix of housing there, to continue to include low-income housing and workforce housing.

Councilor At Large Raegan LaRochelle said she spoke with a couple who moved from Florida to a home on Northern Avenue on Sand Hill who wanted to develop the upstairs of the home as an apartment, but said city code officials seemed very concerned they meet the city’s requirement that landlords provide two off-street parking spots in that part of the city. She suggested looking into lessening those off-street parking requirements to encourage the development of more housing there.

Michaud said a potential starting point for revitalization efforts could include dressing up a grassy area that sits, prominently, in front of St. Augustine Catholic Church. He said the committee had been in talks with the late Rev. John Skehan, leader of the St. Michael Parish which includes the massive St. Augustine, but that discussion would likely need to restart due to Skehan’s recent death.

Michaud said now the spot is little more than a grassy knoll which he said, with the church’s cooperation, could be full of flowers and shrubs and include a large sign welcoming people to Sand Hill.

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