Stepping Stone Housing Inc. will submit a new application for the development of the former Blue Haven property in Damariscotta after announcing it will scale back its plans during a Damariscotta Planning Board meeting Monday, Oct. 3.
Stepping Stone Housing Inc. Executive Director Marilee Harris outlined the plan, which reduces the number and size of structures on the property from the organization’s original proposal.
The nonprofit purchased the property at the corner of Hodgdon and Pleasant streets in an effort to establish transitional housing for people who cannot afford to rent market-rate units in the area.
Stepping Stone board member Bill Hain made a presentation to the planning board about the organization’s plans in July. The original plan included seven housing units, including a tiny house and three two-story duplexes. Each unit could house up to four people.
During meetings in July, August, and September, abutters to the property spoke against the project for a variety of reasons, including the number of people who would be living on the property. If each of the duplexes and the tiny house reached maximum capacity, a total of 28 people would be living on the property.
In a Sept. 29 email to Damariscotta Town Manager Matt Lutkus, Harris provided an updated plan from Stepping Stone that reduces the proposed number of housing units from seven to six.
“Even though seven units were grandfathered by the planning board, we propose to build only five new, 1- or 1 1/2-story energy efficient small homes and keep the small cottage that exists, for a total of six separate living units,” Harris said in her email.
Harris presented the plan to the board and abutters during a public hearing Monday, Oct. 3.
The five new units would be approximately 700 square feet and have two bedrooms each, Harris said. Each unit would hold a maximum of four people.
Harris said it was possible that there could be 24 people on the property, but it was unlikely the units would be at maximum capacity.
“We have a family and six single people living on the property right now. I don’t see the dynamic of that changing,” Harris said.
Harris said Stepping Stone would be willing to work with the town and the neighbors to arrive at a number of allowed occupants on the property.
“If you want to give us a parameter, we will work within that parameter,” Harris said. “Our goal is to serve as many people as we can in the capacity we are able to.”
Chairman Jonathan Eaton said he thought the new plan was an improvement on Stepping Stone’s previous proposal.
“Personally, I think it’s a much better plan,” Eaton said. “I like that the density is being reduced somewhat.”
Some abutters expressed concerns that the property would not be able to handle 24 people if the units were filled to capacity.
Jessica Sirois, a licensed professional counselor who lives and practices across from Blue Haven, said the property cannot handle 24 people and asked the planning board to consider the impacts on traffic, signage, and noise the development would have on the surrounding area.
Neighbors also questioned whether the seven units Stepping Stone planned to have would be considered a grandfathered use of the property. Code Enforcement Officer Stan Waltz made the determination that the new structures would be grandfathered when he previously granted Stepping Stone a building permit.
During its Sept. 6 meeting, the planning board voted 3-2 to accept Waltz’s determination that all seven units were grandfathered.
In a letter to the planning board dated Oct. 2, Margery Kelly, of 21 Pleasant St., said Stepping Stone’s reduction in units was “indeed good news” and the project was one step closer to becoming something the current and future residents, neighbors, and the community at large could embrace.
“The project has been ‘grandfathered’ for seven units,” Kelly said in the letter. “Without that designation, the lot would be limited to three units based on the town of Damariscotta’s Land Use Ordinance. A compromise of five units total would better serve those affected by its existence, and would still be two more units than allowed under today’s standards.”
Gabe Shadis, of 10 Pleasant St., filed an administrative appeal on behalf of the residents of Church, Hodgdon, and Pleasant streets regarding the board’s decision to accept Waltz’s determination that the units are grandfathered.
Shadis said in the appeal that the neighbors strongly feel that the planning board’s decision was “uninformed and made prematurely.”
“From the very inception (of) this project, Stepping Stone Housing (Inc.) has made many assumptions and has pushed every boundary to facilitate maximum use of the lot, only allowed by the grandfathering of seven housing units,” Shadis said in the appeal. “Their proposal to build three duplex apartment buildings with the required parking and driveway space far exceeds what the property could reasonably handle.”
The Damariscotta Board of Appeals is scheduled to meet Friday, Oct. 21 at the town hall to discuss the appeal. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.
Eaton said Stepping Stone will have to return to the planning board with a new site plan and application detailing the revised plan for the planning board’s next meeting.
“We’re going to go through it again right from square one,” Eaton said.
The next meeting of the Damariscotta Planning Board is Tuesday, Nov. 15.