The City Council on Monday voted 5-2 to put off a decision on a controversial proposal to rezone roughly 17 acres in Deering Center to allow construction of nearly 300 units of senior housing.

The vote came shortly before 12:30 a.m., when it appeared that members were deadlocked, with Councilor David Marshall absent. The council will take it up again July 6.

Councilors Edward Suslovic and David Brenerman opposed the delay, and Councilor Nicholas Mavodones urged the developers and neighbors to reach a compromise.

“Try to build some dialogue and build some trust and see if there is something you can agree on,” Mavodones said.

The vote came after several unsuccessful attempts to amend the proposal to appease neighbors, who worry that the project would increase traffic. The rezoning at 605 Stevens Ave. would allow for up to 318 units, but Seacoast Management is proposing 288 units for people age 55 and older

Suslovic said he supports the proposal, but Councilors Justin Costa, Jill Duson, Brenerman and Mavodones indicated they will oppose it.

“It’s too ambitious,” said Brenerman.

The council shot down an amendment to reduce the number of units by 34 on a 4-4 vote with Mayor Michael Brennan and Mavodones, Brenerman and Suslovic voting in favor.

Council deliberations followed a nearly two-hour public hearing, with opponents outnumbering supporters by a roughly 2-1 margin.

Opponents, wearing “Preserve Deering Neighborhood” stickers, largely supported the plan to renovate the 1900s-era convent on the campus of Catherine McAuley High School, but not the requested zoning change that would more than double the number of units allowed. They said they were concerned about an increase in traffic in the area and environmental impacts to Baxter Woods.

Many residents said their neighborhood is special.

“I came back to Maine specifically because of this neighborhood,” said Nancy Springer, who moved from California. “It is rural. It is nice and it is a community.”

John Thibodeau, an organizer of the Preserve Deering Neighborhood group, presented councilors with a petition signed by 511 neighborhood residents who want the current zoning to stay in place. “This is an overwhelming sentiment from the neighborhood,” he said.

Rezoning supporters pointed to the opportunity for quality senior housing and argued that adding hundreds of seniors would enhance the neighborhood while presenting a great learning opportunity for students.

Kathryn Barr, the head of Catherine McAuley, supported the project. She said it presents an opportunity to have an “intergenerational campus” that could be renowned nationally.

“We believe this could be the premier place where students and seniors can work on projects,” she said.

Paul Kennedy, who said he has lived in Deering Center for 15 years said the proposal is the best one floated since the property was listed for sale 11 years ago, because it would provide housing for a mix of income groups as well as good paying jobs.

“It’s a win-win for the (historic Mother House) building. It’s a win-win for Maine’s aging population. It’s a win-win for our neighborhood.” Kennedy said.

Seacoast wants to convert the historic Sisters of Mercy convent – also called the “Mother House,” built in 1908 – into 88 units of senior housing.

Seacoast’s development director, Matthew Teare, said Friday that 66 units would be affordable, with most rents ranging from $600 to $800. There would also be 22 market-rate units, with rents topping $1,000. The building would be renovated in accordance with historic standards, he said. Funds from a future phase, which would consist of up to 200 owner-occupied units in four or five buildings, would help keep rents down.

Future buildings would be built on the Catherine McAuley athletic fields. Developers are offering McAuley a 25-year lease, so the high school can remain on Stevens Avenue, though the school would have to find other athletic fields.

The project was forwarded to the council by the Planning Board with a 4-0 vote in support of the rezoning.

During a council workshop before Monday’s meeting, developer Kevin Bunker said neighbors’ concerns are being exaggerated.

He said the project would only increase traffic by roughly 2 percent – about 25 trips – in the morning and evening peak hours, which now see 1,195 trips and 1,308 trips, respectively. While neighbors worry that older drivers would jeopardize the safety of students who walk to school, research shows that seniors are among the safest drivers, Bunker said.

“It’s the teenagers we have to worry about,” Bunker said.

Bunker estimated that the new development would generate roughly $1 million a year in new property tax revenue.

Bunker said developers have already compromised. They’ve lowered building heights from 65 feet to 55 feet and reduced the number of units proposed. They’ve also scrapped a plan to create a congregate care facility, which will preserve one of the athletic fields.

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