2016-09-22 / Front Page

Notre Dame turned into housing?

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer


The former Notre Dame de Lourdes Church could be turned into senior housing. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) The former Notre Dame de Lourdes Church could be turned into senior housing. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) SACO – A developer has submitted plans to the planning board to redevelop the former Notre Dame de Lourdes Church into market-rate housing, ultimately resulting in as many as 80 new housing units in the city. The church, located at 16 to 18 Cutts Ave., was closed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in 2009.

The church is under contract with Hardypond Construction, a Portland company that has redeveloped other historic structures around the state. The company also developed 199 Main St., which is occupied by a lawfirm.

William Mann, the city’s economic development director, said the project will benefit the city by introducing new housing while preserving the city’s history. Mann said many church properties, of various denominations, have been put on the market, but not all are fortunate enough to be preserved – many are demolished to make way for other projects.

“In terms of preserving the historic nature and character of the structure, it’s a thoughtful repurposing of the building that’s providing market-rate housing to meet the tremendous need that is surfacing in southern Maine,” Mann said.

The project will likely be completed in three phases, with 22 units built in the first phase.

Frank Carr, director of business development for Hardypond Construction, said the company plans to take an open approach with the public, holding meetings to get input from residents about how to best redevelop the site to fit into the fabric of the neighborhood. Carr said the company has used the same approach while developing sites in Windham and Portland.

“What happens is that you learn a lot about the community and who your neighbors are,” Carr said. “Development is not like it was in the ’60s and ’70s where you only did the planning board process. Our process is with a community approach and with an open process.”

“I think they’re open to listening to all possibilities,” Mann said.

Carr said when the company underwent a similar process while renovating a former church in Portland, the neighbors showed developers old pictures of the church and convinced them to remove the vinyl siding.

“We had taken the siding off and it looks great,” Carr said. “We were very lucky because the wood did not rot and we do have some of that architectural detail – it’s a very unique combination of shingles and clapboards.”

Developers have begun having informal discussions with city officials, Mann said, and they plan to meet with the planning board Tuesday, Oct. 4 to discuss the proposal.

Carr said the units will be marketed to urban 55-plus seniors.

“There seems to be a market for that in the Saco area,” Carr said. “The older generation is looking to downsize, relocate and be a part of an urban environment. We stood on the church doorsteps and were able to walk to five different restaurants. It puts the church location ideally suited for that kind of customer.”

Mann said the second phase of the project would remove the rectory of the church and replace it with another structure with up to 40 or more units. Carr said eventually the company would like to use the property’s parking lot to create more housing.

Mann said when development reaches the final stages, it will likely require a parking modification plan.

“Given the location of this property, that’s not unreasonable,” Mann said. “I would suggest that clearly they’ll be looking for a (parking) modification that will be less than what is required by the ordinance today. It’s part of the conversation they’ll have with the planning board and the community meetings as part of furthering the plans. Clearly they want the public to be aware that this is unfolding and happening.”

Carr said the company hopes to obtain all construction permits in time to break ground in April. Carr said the first two phases will likely cost the company $6 million or more.

“It’s a significant multimillion dollar investment in the core of our community,” Mann said. “The feedback we’ve received by people who have become aware of it – some reactions ranged from, ‘I’m glad the church is being preserved and able to be reused’ – it’s all been largely positive … It’s preserving historic aspects that have given the city culture and identity and at the same time reflects how we’re moving forward in the 21st century.”

FMI

A community meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Sept. 29 at 5 p.m. at Saco City Hall Auditorium, where neighbors can provide input to developers about the renovation of the former Notre Dame de Lourdes Church.

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