January 21, 2020

Thomaston board rejects housing project

THOMASTON — A proposed low-income elderly housing project was rejected Tuesday by the zoning board when representatives of Volunteers of America failed to prove a hardship for a variance.

The zoning board met to consider allowing the 32-unit facility on a parcel that permitted 10 units.

The board voted 4-1 to deny the request with member Grace Kirkland in favor.

Kirkland said she now lives in subsidized housing and that it is much needed in the town.

“I don’t like the idea of not in my back yard,” she said. “If we don’t do it now, we’ll have to do it tomorrow.”

Numerous neighbors of the proposed senior housing center that would have been located behind Thomaston Academy on the corner of Gleason and Roxbury streets spoke against the project. All of the residents who live close to the planned site said the drawings for the building were beautiful but that the facility was much too big for the area. A few town residents supported having the housing center.

Attorney James Strong, who represented John and Lynn Miller of Fluker Street, said that in addition to the project needing a variance for density, the amount of road frontage clashed with the requirements of the town’s ordinance. Code enforcement officer Peter Surek disagreed with Strong.

The Volunteers of America representatives described the $2.2 million project, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as having little negative impact on the neighborhood.

Neighbors raised issues including density, lack of tax revenue from a nonprofit organization, increased traffic, added burden to police, fire and ambulance departments, and the project simply being “out of character” and “oversized” for the location.

In trying to show that there would be minimal traffic, VOA director of housing management Sandra Pedersen said that about 50 percent of the residents in these types of facilities own cars and those that do seldom drive them. On the other hand, she said many indoor and outdoor activities are planned for the elders and that they are allowed to have family and guests visit.

When questioned on the 24-hour emergency services offered, Pedersen said there are emergency panels and warning devices in the units that eventually could be tied to an ambulance service. When the issue of added ambulance services from the town was raised, she offered to hire a private ambulance to serve the facility.

Ted Mlynarski of Gleason Street pointed out that there were many other spots in town with greater land area to accommodate the size of the project. He also said the town has done a good job over the years in providing low-income and affordable housing.

VOA representatives said the Gleason Street location was the only site they had looked at that met all their criteria except for density. They considered sites in Brunswick, Bath, West Bath and Waldoboro. VOA has similar units in Portland, Saco and Augusta.

Daria Peck of Gleason Street suggested the land where the Maine State Prison is located as a potential site. The prison is scheduled to close in November 2001. Resident Harold Sawyer invited VOA to consider land he owns on Booker Street.

Elaine Colwell of Lawrence Street presented a 32-signature petition opposing the project.

“We’d like to see it stay a neighborhood of private homes,” she said.

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