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Habitat details Talbot Avenue housing project

By Stephen Betts | Jan 20, 2021
Photo by: Landmark Corporation The proposed Habitat for Humanity housing project for Talbot Avenue in Rockland is shown in this graphic by Landmark Corporation. Talbot Avenue is the road at the bottom, and Traverse Street is on the right.

Rockland — Midcoast Habitat for Humanity representatives presented detailed plans Jan. 19 to the Rockland Planning Board, as the housing organization seeks a contract zone change on Talbot Avenue to create affordable housing.

The Planning Board agreed at the end of the Jan. 19 meeting to conduct a tour of the property Tuesday, Feb. 2, and could make recommendations to the Rockland City Council.

The request for a contract zone would then go to the City Council.

Ground could be broken for the project during the summer.

There were concerns voiced by a few neighbors about the project proposed for nearly 11 acres at 165 Talbot Ave.

Habitat proposes building eight rental efficiency/one-bedroom residences that will each be 500 square feet; and three rental duplexes that will each have a one-bedroom (1,000 square-foot) and a three-bedroom (1,200-square foot) residence.

The rental properties would be managed by the Knox County Homeless Coalition.

There would also be five single-family homes each ranging in size from 1,000 to 1,500-square feet that would be sold to qualified applicants. Habitat homeowners must meet income guidelines and contribute sweat equity to the construction of their homes.

The 10.6 acres of undeveloped land is on the north side of Talbot Avenue, between Traverse Street and JRL Drive. Habitat purchased the land in June 2020 from Denis and Pauline Black for $200,000.

Habitat Executive Director Tia Anderson told the Planning Board Jan. 19 this is a pilot project supported by Maine State Housing Authority. She said a MSHA representative approached her at a housing conference a few years ago about creating a development that would be a mix of rentals and single-family homes.

Habitat looked for property before reaching an agreement with the Blacks to buy their property. She said the Blacks offered the property first to abutting property owners.

Maine State Housing is helping finance the project with a $500,000 grant. That allowed for the land to be purchased and will pay for infrastructure to be installed on the property.

The non-profit organization submitted its application to the city Nov. 4 for a contract/conditional zone change.

Habitat received a contract zone from the City Council in March 2019 for its Philbrick Commons development. Ground was broken there in November 2019.

Anderson said two of the homes in Philbrick Commons are near completion and three more were framed and sided. She said that entire development — that will consist of 12 one- and two-bedroom homes of 650 to 850 square feet — should be completed within 18 months. She said the pandemic has slowed the project by about a month.

The Talbot Avenue project needs a contract zone, because the proposed 500-square-foot residences are less than the current minimum 750-square-foot required in the residential A zone where the land is located.

A few neighbors asked whether the city should first see how the Philbrick Avenue project turns out, before approving another contract zone.

Neighbor Lawrence Campbell of Center Street said he understands the need for affordable housing and supports Habitat's mission. He asked the city first take stock of how Philbrick Commons turns out before approving the contract zone for Talbot Avenue.

Campbell also said if it will take three years to complete Philbrick Commons, will the Talbot Avenue site be a construction site for five years. He also said that since the homes will be small, there will be little room for storage, and he was concerned that properties will be an eyesore if residents leave stuff in their yards.

He also asked that the development preserve many of the trees that surround the property for a buffer. Campbell said he doesn't live far from the downtown, but with the woods, it doesn't feet that way, and he gets to see wildlife.

Ralph Stuart, who lives on Talbot Avenue, across from where the project will be built said he also understands the need for more affordable housing. Stuart said his concerns are increased traffic, the length of time that construction will occur, and the loss of seeing wildlife in the now undeveloped land.

Anderson said both the Philbrick Avenue and Talbot Avenue developments can be built at the same time. She said the Talbot Avenue project will be built in phases, starting first with the small rental residences and then the duplexes. The single-family homes will be built on demand as owners are approved.

Beverly Cowan, whose home is located adjacent to where the access road will be located, claims the houses would be out of character to her historic home, once owned by General Davis Tillson.

"The proposal that has been submitted to the Planning Board is the worst case scenario. Eight tiny houses (rentals) plopped next to a historic home. General Tillson will roll over in his grave," she said in a letter to the city.

Anderson pointed out that the definition of a tiny house is 400 square feet or less, and all of the proposed structures will be larger than that.

Habitat points out in its application for a contract zone that affordable housing is one of the most critical issues facing Maine. City leaders have also voiced concern about the lack of affordable housing and the City Council made dealing with that as one of its goals for 2021.

The Maine State Housing Authority's annual housing affordability report for 2020 found that 74% of Rockland households are unable to afford the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city.

The report, issued in early 2020, pegged the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Rockland at $1,520. Both the cost of rentals and homes have increased dramatically during the past year as many out-of-state people have been buying properties in Rockland in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Habitat, based in Rockport, has developed significant number of homes in Rockland for working class people with lower incomes.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: Ronald Pendleton | Jan 21, 2021 08:07

There are 2 murderers set to be released to the Rockland area within months of each other, to those who suggest a halfway house  for ex cons, maybe you could let these fine fellows stay with you.

Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Jan 20, 2021 10:08

Do we have an Owls Head resident advocating for Rockland to create housing areas for ex-prisoners? If so, that should excite the Talbot Ave crowd... and everyone else.

Posted by: George Terrien | Jan 20, 2021 08:49

Great idea, Debra Damon, and well planted!  I hope it sprouts.

Posted by: Debra Damon | Jan 20, 2021 07:09

It would be nice to see some of this housing to be used for people coming out of prison or jail who want to change their life. They could maybe get a work release permit to help build them. Putting their own sweat into building something they could go along way into changing their life. Thought she be put into having a house where someone who wants to see the men and women change their lives could live to guide them. I'm not saying it has to all be space for them and that each one would have to go through a process to be able to live there. Just a thought and I'm not looking to start trouble. I just want to see those who truly want to change their life to be able to do it.

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