Sunday, May 19, 2013
WESTBROOK -- Avesta Housing plans to rehabilitate a former school and convent associated with St. Hyacinth's Church and construct a third building to create a campus with 37 affordable housing units.
The former school and convent associated with St. Hyacinth’s Church on Walker Street in Westbrook will form part of a 37-apartment complex.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
The Westbrook Planning Board decided Tuesday to approve the project, called Hyacinth Place, which has already gone out for bids for construction.
Some residents who spoke at Tuesday's meeting said fixing up the historic buildings will improve the neighborhood, while others said there already is too much affordable housing in the area.
Within about a quarter-mile of the site on Walker Street are 99 affordable housing units -- 73 apartments in Avesta Housing's Steeple Square on Walker and Webb streets and 26 apartments in Westbrook Housing's Golder Commons on Bridge Street.
"Do we really need more low-income housing? I'm surrounded by it," said Rowena Walton, who lives on Pike Street, next to the site of the planned project.
Walton said she wants to see the historic church buildings rehabilitated but doesn't like the idea of another large building on the property.
"I'm concerned about the scope of the project and the impact it's going to have on my neighborhood, as well as my way of life," she said.
James Tranchemontagne, who lives on nearby Cole Street, said the project will be more of a burden on the community than a benefit to it, bringing more children to the school system without the tax dollars to offset that cost.
"People are so quick to say other development doesn't work here," he said, but "we don't really know."
The former school, which most recently housed a food pantry, and the adjacent convent, which was home to the parish offices, have been vacant for about two years, said Paul Concannon, a member of the building commission of St. Anthony's Parish.
St. Anthony's is the name of the parish formed in 2005 when St. Edmund's and St. Mary's churches consolidated into St. Hyacinth's on Brown Street.
Concannon said the former church buildings represent the character of the neighborhood, known to some as Frenchtown, but they now have broken windows and graffiti on them.
The "beautification" of the site, he said, will have "some real tangible benefits to the city."
Greg Payne, a development officer for Portland-based Avesta, has said that the affordable-housing developer has "waiting lists that are quite long for our existing properties."
Avesta owns or manages 1,800 apartments, according to its website.
The site of Hyacinth Place is attractive to Avesta because it's close to a downtown area, where jobs and services are, and because Westbrook is a growing city, said Payne.
Avesta hired Developers Collaborative of Portland to handle the planning of the project, citing its expertise in historic rehabilitation.
The school building was built in 1893 and the convent was built in 1921, said Kevin Bunker, principal of Developers Collaborative.
He said a combination of historic- and affordable-housing tax credits will cover the estimated $6 million cost of construction, which is expected to begin in November.
The planned apartments, where rent will cost $590 to $995 a month, will be a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedrooms, said Payne. He said they should be ready for residents in the fall of 2013.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org