WESTBROOK – Following missed deadlines by the developer, residents of Westbrook’s Presumpsot Estates are pressing for progress on promised amenities, and the city is stepping in to help.

The missed amenity deadlines have muddied the future of the development, where after four years, only four units have been built, with another four lots sold, out of a planned 39.

Because of the deadline issue, the development, on Stillwater Drive, is in default to the Planning Board, which originally approved a site plan in July 2009 that included plans for the construction of a clubhouse, pool, a dock on the Presumpscot River, and tennis and basketball courts for use by a condominium association. The completion date was July 7, 2013.

An attorney for the developer, Chase Custom Homes, has said the developer wasn’t aware of the original timeline for the amenities to be completed. John Chase, the owner of Chase Custom Homes, had requested that the amenity condition be eliminated because the default means no additional building permits could be issued.

At a Planning Board meeting last week, City Planner Molly Just unveiled an effort to phase in the amenities in order to allow Chase to continue developing lots.

On Wednesday, she called the city’s role in the negotiations unusual.

“The city does not get involved in managing private amenities in a private development,” she said. “We have enough on our plates. Having this role is beyond our usual scope.”

The plan submitted to the board called for tennis courts to be installed by November of this year, the basketball court by November 2015, and the phasing in of the clubhouse and pool projects based on the eventual sale of the 14th and 24th units, respectively. However, the plan also stipulates that no further building permits will be issued if the developer does not comply with the timeline.

Chase’s attorney, Richard Abbondanza, said the building permit restrictions are troublesome, and will hinder marketing and sales efforts for the development.

“We appreciate the work the staff has put into this, to try to come up with a solution that makes sense for all the stakeholders involved,” he said. “But, holding back on building permits would cause a problem with the marketing and completion of the units.”

He added that while mostly in favor of the phasing plan’s details, the developer is still concerned that a limited number of owners would be paying into an “association fee” toward maintenance and other costs for each amenity.

“These amenities were meant for 39 units,” he said.

According to a Planning Board memo, the existing conditions of approval state that “the community center, including the clubhouse building, pool, tennis court and basketball court depicted on the plans shall be completed by the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy for the 30th unit or by July 7, 2013, whichever comes first.”

Chase Custom Homes was not the original developer of the project, and Abbondanza said Chase was not aware of the specific completion timeline until after it had passed.

Calls to Chase were not returned by the American Journal’s deadline Wednesday.

Abbondanza also said that when Chase took the project over, the market changed, and the faltering housing market halted the development.

Chase was also involved in a Naples lawsuit in 2010, after unlawfully clear-cutting his property within a shoreland zone. A settlement was reached and Chase paid the town $65,000.

City Councilor Paul Emery said at the meeting that the real estate market has begun to turn the other way, and that potential buyers like to see development happening.

“The more units you have built, the more momentum you have to sell,” he said. “I would ask the Planning Board to be as flexible as possible.”

At the meeting last week, Presumpscot Estates unit owner Chris Colello said he didn’t understand the “hold-up” on the amenities, and accused Chase of “kicking it down the road.”

Colello said that through discussions he’s had with other owners, the consensus is that the “amenities should be built as soon as possible.”

He said that while the owners know the association fees would only be shared by eight people, it “is a lot better than just one homeowner. I’m still waiting for what was supposed to be there.”

Colello added that “kicking the can down the road another month, another year,” isn’t going to make the subdivision a success.

“What does that say to potential buyers? It’s not going to happen,” he said. “Realtors I’ve talked to say they don’t believe anything is going to happen.”

He said owners also agree that the phasing plan should be amended to allow for the pool and clubhouse to be built first, with the tennis court and other amenities to follow.

“The one item that none of us want is a tennis court, but that’s first,” he said.

Colello also called Chase’s claim that he wasn’t aware of the original construction timeline a “cop out. He got a different copy than all of us?” he said.

Sam Colella, another unit owner in the development, said the reason he bought his lot was because he believed the sign that advertised the project, which still stands on the corner of Cumberland Street today.

“I’ve been waiting all this time for these things to happen, and it has been flat on its face,” he said. “These amenities would be an attraction and a magnet for people who are looking to build in a good subdivision. But I’m not sure they’d be attracted if they drove down the road to see what looks like a wasteland, except for the nice looking homes.”

Planning Board member Dennis Isherwood recommended that the Planning Department reconfigure the phasing plan to represent the request of the unit owners, with a plan to begin with construction of the pool and docks on the river.

“That’s the reason why it’s called Presumpscot Estates,” he said.

Just said Wednesday that her office is submitting an updated phasing plan to the board with the larger amenities phased in first.

Planning Board Chairman Edward Reidman said that under the original request by the developer, the board could still decide to scratch all the amenities from the project.

“I don’t think we want to do that, but we want to find a way so that the project can start moving,” he said.

The Planning Board is set to act on a revised phasing plan next Tuesday, April 15, at 7 p.m.

A sign advertising the Presumpscot Estates development off Cumberland Street lists multiple community amenities for potential builders, but four years after building began, no such amenities exist.   


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