SOUTH PORTLAND – If all goes as planned, an out-of-state developer could break ground as early as this spring on a $30 million congregate housing facility, for those 55 and up, near the Maine Mall in South Portland.

Last week Cameron General Contractors, based in Lincoln, Neb., took the first step toward a multi-faceted approval process, which includes a zone change, as well as special permission from the Planning Board.

The congregate facility is designed on an all-inclusive resort model, according to Cameron General Contractors.

During a meeting on Dec. 9, the Planning Board voted 7-0 to forward a positive recommendation to the City Council for a zone change on a nearly 10-acre site on Executive Drive, off Running Hill Road.

The next step is for the zone change to go to the City Council for review. Cameron General Contractors is requesting a change from the current transitional central and regional commercial zone to suburban commercial, which allows residential development and congregate housing, in particular, as a special permitted use.

Assuming the City Council allows the zone change, the developer would then need to get site plan and master plan approval from the Planning Board, according to Tex Haeuser, director of South Portland’s Planning and Development Office.

During last week’s Planning Board meeting, Haeuser said there is not much difference between the current zoning on the development site and the suburban commercial zone, other than the allowance for residential development.

However, under the new zone, the developer would have to meet a variety of performance standards, including for landscaping and architecture, Haeuser said.

“There are special performance standards in the (suburban commercial) zone,” he told the Planning Board, and said the intent of the zoning “is clearly an effort to provide very careful control over large developments.”

In outlining the general purpose of the suburban commercial zone, Haeuser said the goal is to “provide areas for professional offices, urban residential (and) certain low-intensity commercial, personal services and recreational uses primarily to serve those persons living, working or transacting business within the district and to encourage planned developments which will promote and preserve the integration of these uses.”

If approved, the new congregate housing facility would consist of 130 units, be three stories tall and approximately 180,000 square feet in size, according to materials submitted to the Planning Board prior to last week’s meeting.

During the meeting, Josh Thornton, vice president of development for Cameron General Contractors, said his company has been looking for a suitable site for a new congregate, senior housing facility in the Portland area for the past two years.

Following the meeting, Thornton told the Current, “We couldn’t be more excited about (the site) in South Portland.”

While Cameron General Contractors owns and operates 10 congregate housing facilities in other states, this would be the first in Maine by the company.

Thornton told the Planning Board that in addition to the 10 facilities Cameron General Contractors already has up and running in places like Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, the company has seven similar communities under construction and more than a dozen others in development, including the proposal for South Portland.

In explaining his company’s congregate housing model to the Planning Board, Thornton said, “It’s like being on a cruise ship on land.”

The amenities offered to residents, through Cameron General Contractor’s sister company, Resort Lifestyle Communities, include 24-hour dining, 24-hour concierge services, weekly housekeeping, valet parking, a 150-seat movie theater, fitness center and an on-site bank, pharmacy/gift shop, hair salon, library, coffee shop and computer or tech center.

Although Resort Lifestyle Communities does not offer home health-care services, it does allow residents to contract with a third party provider, which, Thornton said, means residents can “gracefully age in place.”

In addition, the facilities all boast live-in managers, activities and lifestyle managers, transportation for those who no longer drive, day trips and more. The tagline on the Resort Lifestyle Communities website reads, “Retire Comfortably. Live Luxuriously.”

“Our all-inclusive, resort-style communities offer adults 55 and over an elegant, comfortable and safe place to call home. Designed to complement your lifestyle, our luxurious accommodations, unmatched amenities, flexible dining options and leisure activities set the tone for the retirement of your dreams,” the website adds.

Thornton said Cameron General Contractors offers studio as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom units for lease on a month-to-month basis. While the rental fees for the South Portland facility have not yet been set, he said a ballpark figure would be between $3,250 and $3,500 a month for a one-bedroom unit and between $4,000 and $4,250 for a three-bedroom.

Each unit includes a full kitchen, washer and dryer hook-ups and patio and balcony options. The congregate housing communities are also pet friendly, and the monthly rent includes all water, electric, gas and cable television fees.

He called the rents “affordable” and said the monthly costs are well within the range of what someone would pay to own his or her own home, taking into consideration all the maintenance and other costs.

“For the majority of our residents this is a lifestyle decision,” Thornton said. “It’s really about creating a cruise ship-type experience for our residents.”

He added, “Our goal is to create a loving, caring, safe and social environment for people of the same age and stage of life. Everything we do is based on the needs of the residents.”

Thornton said Cameron General Contractors did an “in-depth market analysis” before coming to the conclusion that “southern Maine is in need of a facility like this. There is absolutely a demand and there is overwhelming evidence that a project of our type is needed.”

He said that once all the approvals are in place, which he hopes happens “sooner rather than later,” it would take between 15 and 18 months for the congregate housing facility to be built and ready for occupation.

Thornton also said that in every community Cameron General Contractors has built a congregate housing development they’ve been “well received without exception.”

David Cary, the acting planning director in Lincoln, Neb., said this week that Cameron General Contractors, which built its first congregate housing community about 14 years ago, paid the city property taxes of approximately $197,000 on its 123-unit facility, which has an assessed value of $10.1 million.

In his comments to the Planning Board during last week’s meeting, Haeuser said the site in South Portland chosen by Cameron General Contractors is in an identified growth area and that “the comprehensive plan completely supports some type of development here.”

Prior to the vote recommending the zone change to the City Council, Planning Board member Linda Boudreau said that while “it’s not usual to see housing in the mall area, the zoning and the comprehensive plan allows for it.”

She added, “I’m sure (the facility) will be beautiful, and there’s no doubt we want development that upgrades the area.”

An out-of-state developer is seeking approval to build a congregate housing facility, like this one the company built, for those 55 and older in South Portland.  

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