WATERVILLE — Residents on Monday told the Planning Board they don’t want St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on Elm Street razed to make way for a low-income housing unit for seniors.

“I think we’re tearing down a very, very important structure,” Waterville businessman Charlie Giguere said.

Giguere was speaking before about 30 people who turned out for the meeting at which planners considered a preliminary plan by Corpus Christi Parish to build a complex of 58 one-bedroom apartments on the corner of Elm and Winter streets.

The 137-year-old church, as well as a rectory and church hall, would be torn down later this summer to make way for the complex.

Giguere, who is circulating a petition against the church demolition, said it is an historical building, his parents were married there and it is a local institution.

“It’s part of the fabric of this community,” he said.

But church officials said they tried to sell the church, which closed because of a shortage of priests and the high cost of maintaining the building, for about four years with no success.

Housing for elderly is sorely needed in Waterville, they said.

“There has been really nothing going on in the church for over a year,” said David Twomey, treasurer of the Diocesan Bureau of Housing and chief financial officer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

“The heat’s been turned off,” Twomey said. “It was costing the parish about $40,000 to $50,000 a year just to have the building sit there.”

By late Monday, the board had not voted on the plans. City Planner Ann Beverage said she did not expect the board to take a vote until May 21.

If the plans are approved, the diocese would buy the property from the parish and get the mortgage through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Kim Lindlof, president and chief executive officer for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, said she was concerned about traffic safety if the current plan for the project is approved.

The chamber is adjacent to the church property.

Percival Court, a two-way street next to the chamber building, would become one-way onto Elm Street if the plan is approved and cause traffic congestion and an unsafe situation, Lindlof said. Motorists leaving the housing complex would exit onto Elm Street via Percival Court, she said.

“I don’t like this layout,” she said. “I’d like egress somewhere else and not Percival Court.”

Others said taking a left turn off Percival to Elm is very difficult because the area is so busy, particularly at noon and around 5 p.m.

Former Planning Board Chairman Patricia Gorman wondered if such a housing complex is appropriate for the corner of Elm and Winter streets.

“Is this too big a project for the small amount of land, because it’s such a crowded area?” Gorman asked.

She noted that the first phase of the project includes building 40 housing units and the second phase, 18 units.

“That’s 58 apartments in a small area, and can we handle that?”

Planning Board Chairman David Geller said it is the developer’s decision to go with such a development. The Planning Board’s responsibility is to make sure it meets the city’s ordinance.

“That would be more of a council issue regarding a moratorium,” he said in reply to Gorman’s comments.

Twomey said the diocese has a long history of developing such housing projects over the last 40 years. Seton Village in Waterville is an example, he said.

“I’m very excited about doing this, for a number of reasons,” he said. “Seton Village has historically had a waiting list of 75 to 100 people trying to apply to get into that facility.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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