Risbara Bros. Construction is forging ahead with the planned expansion of its Blue Spruce Farm subdivision, despite outspoken criticism from neighbors.

Work on Phase 1 of the subdivision off Spring Street maintains a quick pace, and the company has already begun the approval process for the next, and larger, phase – one that has proven to be controversial.

At a public meeting last week, and a Planning Board site walk of the property Saturday, it was clear that a large number of residents are opposed to the project, which calls for 308 additional units of mostly market-rate apartments and some single-family homes and condominiums.

“This neighborhood has been changing for the better,” said resident Peggy Quinlan during Saturday’s site walk. “This is for the worse.”

However, Risbara maintains that the project is filling an obvious need for housing in the Greater Portland area, pointing to the success of its first phase. The 52 house lots are nearly sold out, and the finished apartment buildings are already full.

Saturday’s sitewalk, as well as last week’s meeting, was led by Rocco Risbara of the Scarborough-based Risbara Bros. Construction, and Nancy St. Clair of the civil engineering firm St. Clair Associates.

Seeing the success of Phase 1, Risbara Bros. acquired 42 mostly wooded acres from two adjacent parcels owned by resident Daniel Chick and Westbrook Land Company. Much of the concern brought forward by residents at both events was centered on a proposed road connection to Prospect Street and the impact the development would have on the neighborhood, which is already home to the large Westbrook Pointe apartment complex.

The Chick property features most of the only open field areas – a section of field that used to serve as a private landing strip for aircraft – and also a 100-foot-wide Portland Water District easement. But, the majority of the land in Phase 2 is wooded, with some paths that the Planning Board and guests traversed for more than two hours last Saturday.

Most of the proposed 20 apartment buildings and five condominium buildings were marked by property stakes and colored flags. A 6,000-square-foot, mixed-use commercial building is also planned for the center of the site, with hopes for a coffee shop, store, hair salon and fitness center for residents. The building would also feature eight apartments on a second floor.

Many public comments have centered on the density of multi-family apartment buildings instead of single-family homes. There are 13 house lots proposed as part of Phase 2. Risbara said last week that the typography of the land doesn’t work for homes due to wetlands separating portions of the property.

“That works for you, not us,” said resident Ben Waxman last week.

There has also been much discussion on the potential impact on Westbrook’s schools, which are already at capacity. A preliminary population study done for Phase 2 predicts the next phase would generate between 20-22 students for the district. Phase 1 has 10 school-aged children and 10 toddlers, with most of those living in the single-family homes. Risbara argues that the apartments would generate fewer students and more tax revenue.

But while the public feedback has been critical of Risbara, the company is now two steps further along in its approval process. The July 20 public meeting at Husson University’s Southern Maine campus in Westbrook fulfilled a requirement from both the city and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and the Westbrook Planning Board will now host a workshop on the proposal on Tuesday, Aug. 2.

Neighboring resident Mike Ross also had multiple questions for the developers during Saturday’s site walk, including concerns for the project’s impact on wetlands, and adequate buffers between the development and the existing homes and apartments at Westbrook Pointe. He said the proposed road would be built on land that is currently used by neighborhood children to play.

“To not take that into consideration here I think would be a big mistake,” he said.

Much was made of the Prospect Street connection, which, residents say, will lead to motorists using the new connection as a shortcut between Saco and Spring streets. Landing Road, connecting Spring and Stroudwater streets, is already under construction.

“Are you aware that there are already hundreds of apartments right there?” said resident Fran Jensen, mentioning the number of students living there. “The roads were not designed to accommodate that kind of traffic.”

St. Clair said a state traffic study is under way, which is a required portion of the approvals process. St. Clair and Risbara said during the public meeting last week that they would be looking at traffic mitigation measures such as raised speed tables to make sure motorists cannot speed through the new neighborhood.

Also planned for the property is a connection to an existing Portland Trails system along the Stroudwater River. The project is maintaining the required 250-foot setback from the river. Risbara told residents Saturday that access to an existing path stemming from Westbrook Pointe would no longer be allowed, as it would be on private property used for a section of apartment buildings.

Planning Board member Dennis Isherwood asked Risbara to revisit that decision. The company is set to meet with the city’s Recreation and Conservation Commission to discuss the open space plan for the entire project. Risbara is proposing a half-court basketball court, dog park and other play areas, but said it is open to changing those plans.

“A lot of info will be forthcoming,” St. Clair told residents last week.

Combined, the two phases of Blue Spruce Farm will be the largest residential development in Westbrook. During last week’s meeting, which lasted some three hours, resident Kate Bergeron said the development is “abhorrent” to the neighborhood, referring to the number of multi-family apartment buildings.

“You are choosing for us to do this,” she said. “You need to make better decisions that will impact a large number of people forever.”

Westbrook City Councilor Mike Foley, who lives in a home in Phase 1, said he disagreed with the decision to change the condominium project to more apartments in Phase 1, but said Risbara Bros. is making an investment in Westbrook, and said the family-run company is on site every day working.

Some residents at last week’s meeting called for the city to implement impact fees. Risbara said impact fees amount to “extortion,” stating that most developers simply add the cost of the fees into building and rent prices.

Last week, Risbara said he expects it will be two to three years before the company begins Phase 2. The company is still working on eight 12-unit apartment buildings on Phase 1. The first four are already open.

The upcoming Planning Board workshops beginning Aug. 2 will break up the project into several topics through a number of meetings due to the complicated plan.

When asked about the reaction from the public during last week’s public meeting, Risbara said the company met its goal of giving everyone who wanted to speak an opportunity to do so.

“At over three hours, that was the longest public informational meeting I have ever been involved with,” he said. “Hopefully, people can see by our actions that we do want people to be able to voice their opinions.”

He also said his company now “understands clearly what the issues are and will continue to work to address them.”

Quinlan, along with her husband, Terry Quinlan, have lived in the neighborhood for 42 years. On Saturday, while part of the site walk group, she said her husband used to play in the woods as a teenager, but that in a few years’ time, it will be gone.

“Somehow I wish this didn’t feel like a done deal,” she said.

A site walk of the land proposed for the Blue Spruce Farm expansion took more than two hours Saturday, with Rocco Risbara, right, leading the way. Five neighboring residents also trudged the mostly-wooded land, questioning the scope of the housing  development.

Rocco Risbara of Risbara Bros. Construction points out a property line next to Westbrook Pointe during a Planning Board site walk Saturday. The walk was intended to give board members an idea of the proposed Phase 2 of Blue Spruce Farm.

More than 75 people attended a public meeting on the proposed Phase 2 of Blue Spruce Farm last week.

The updated site plan for Blue Spruce Farm in Westbrook.


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