2016-10-06 / Front Page

Developers hear concerns over church renovation

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

Frank Carr, director of business development at Hardypond Construction, speaks to the audience at a meeting for the community surrounding Notre Dame de Lourdes Church. Sitting to the right is Bill Mann, Saco economic development director. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Frank Carr, director of business development at Hardypond Construction, speaks to the audience at a meeting for the community surrounding Notre Dame de Lourdes Church. Sitting to the right is Bill Mann, Saco economic development director. (Anthony Aloisio photo) SACO – Automobile traffic, historic preservation and economic development visions were discussed among members of the community surrounding the redevelopment of Notre Dame de Lourdes Church on Cutts Avenue.

Officers of real estate developer Hardypond Construction, city officials and community members met Thursday, Sept. 29, at a meeting in the Saco City Hall Auditorium. The meeting is part of an effort to involve the community in the entire development process.

“We’re available for one-onones if you’re interested,” said Frank Carr, director of business development for Hardypond. “We’ll have coffee, we’ll walk to one of these (neighborhood) locations so I can test them all out.”

Standing to the left is Frank Carr, director of business development at Hardypond Construction. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Standing to the left is Frank Carr, director of business development at Hardypond Construction. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Carr said that community input is most valuable now because the project is still in its early stages, when adjustments according to community guidance are most practicable.

“This is at the etch-a-sketch stage, really,” Carr said. “We’re gonna be going through planning board probably in late October or early November.”

Separate from presenting that building design later on, officers of Hardypond will appear before the Planning Board on Oct. 4, after Courier deadline, to ask for relief on parking requirements.

Construction on the project isn’t expected until next year.

“We’re probably looking at spring to early summer to try to put a shovel in the ground and start building,” Carr said.

The community voiced various concerns about the project, with a focus on the logistical concerns of a construction project and the presence of a new housing development. One community member asked about construction vehicles, dirt and other pitfalls of the building process. In response, Carr referred anyone with such concerns to a similar construction project already ongoing in Portland, Clark Memorial Methodist Church, and encouraged them to visit that site.

“You can see how we’ve maintained a construction site,” Carr said.

Implications for parking and automobile traffic for a housing development that could add a total of 80 new residents was also a concern. Community members expressed that even with the current level of development in the area of the church, parking is already often difficult. Hardypond does plan to incorporate some parking into the project.

“We feel we can get about 35 to 38 on the site,” Carr said.

Other than those spaces, the development plan doesn’t offer any definite remedy for the parking problem. In response, Carr pointed to planning theory that indicates that, in these circumstances, more residents doesn’t necessarily mean more drivers.

“When you’re doing dense development in city center, the walkable area, there is a lesser parking requirement,” Carr said.

Bill Mann, Saco’s economic development director, endorsed that theory. According to Mann, if residents are partly active seniors 55 years old or older, their lifestyle might only involve walking to nearby stores or using public transportation. Another likely demographic, Mann said, is millennials. Millennials this year are roughly between the ages of 12 and 34 years old.

“They don’t want a car,” Mann said. “It’s an expense, it’s overhead and they like being in an urban place where they can walk.”

Officials at Hardypond expect millennials and seniors will be their primary demographic, said Bob Gaudreau, vice president, partly because every unit is planned to be single bedroom.

“This middle, between millennials and older people,” said Gaudreau, “they’re typically house people. They’re not our crowd.”

The discussion also reached the historic preservation effort integral to the project. Current plans for the development involve tearing down the rectory building and constructing two entirely new buildings on the property. Some community members were concerned that the new buildings would disrupt the historical appearance of the church. In response, Carr reiterated that building designs were not final and gathering input was a primary purpose of the meeting. Additionally, Gaudreau took the opportunity to speak about why he wanted to preserve the church. He said the stained glass windows, detail fixtures and exposed trusses are worth preserving.

“These are exciting things that we don’t get to see in today’s architecture,” Gaudreau said.

Gaudreau pointed out that preservation has a dollar value.

“It costs me about $25 more a square foot to renovate than it would be to do a new construction,” Gaudreau said.

The question of the historic value of the rectory, which is planned to be torn down, was raised.

“I can tell you I’ve had more concerns about the church than about the rectory,” Carr said. “This is the first time I’ve heard concern about the rectory.”

Mann also spoke to the economic development theory behind supporting housing development ahead of commercial development.

“If the client base that’s going to patronize those restaurants and shops, if that population isn’t present in greater critical mass,” Mann said, “it’s going to be difficult to encourage further commercial development.”

Members of the community, however, are not in agreement with Mann’s vision of the development.

“Just having residents does not expand the economy,” wrote Beth Johnston, a Pleasant Avenue resident, who was not in attendance but whose written statement to Hardypond was read aloud at the meeting. “Residents need to have income to support local businesses.”

Johnston’s letter also voiced concerns about pedestrian safety, traffic congestion and historic preservation.

Saco City Councilor Kevin Roche appeared briefly at the meeting to clarify Hardypond’s funding plan. Early in the meeting Carr said that project funding was purely private, but Roche challenged that assertion by pointing out that it would be asking for funding by tax increment financing (TIF). TIF allows local governments to create financial incentives for developers in the form of rebates from assessed taxes. The city, in turn, gets to keep more value generated by the development because the new value is not counted against it in certain tax and funding calculations by the state and county.

Later in the meeting, Mann defended the use of TIF by saying that it will account as a net positive for the city.

“For every dollar in new value, the state and the county take roughly 50 cents of that by either lost aid to education, reduced revenue sharing, or county tax,” Mann said.

Developments funded by TIF are different, Mann continued, because that development is not counted in state tax assessment.

“So in a TIF, you take a dollar of new taxable revenue, and the community keeps the whole dollar. We don’t give any of it to the state, we don’t lose state aid to education,” Mann said. “So, if you give a developer 30 cents of that dollar, you’re still 20 cents ahead of where you would have been.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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