An early rendering of what a new Westbrook Housing Authority senior housing project would look like. WHA officials said the building would fit in with other structures in the neighborhood, including the armory and the high school. Contributed / Westbrook Housing

Westbrook City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to sell city-owned, undeveloped land on which 58 units of affordable housing for seniors would be built.

If given final approval, the city would sell about 3.2 acres for $350,000 to Westbrook Housing Authority, which would build the $15 million project next to the armory and across from the high school. The location is perfect, Westbrook Housing Director Chris LaRoche said, because of the nearby amenities.

“It’s two properties (away) from the armory and Hannaford,” LaRoche said. “You have a supermarket, pharmacy, bank, public amenities … right next door. It’s very walkable and reduces the need for an automobile and there is a bus stop right there.”

The footprint of a 58-unit affordable housing project proposed by Westbrook Housing Authority. The preliminary plan includes replacing an onsite skating rink. Contributed / Westbrook Housing

Money will come from Maine State Housing Authority’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and from Westbrook Housing, which is requesting a tax agreement from the city that would provide funding.

On Wednesday, City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the project will not impact local taxpayers, due to the way the tax agreement is arranged.

It will be about a year before the cost to rent individual units is known.

Officials expect it will take one to two years to complete the project.

According to the Westbrook Housing Authority, the annual income for an eligible couple may not exceed $63,950. The median annual income for an individual in the Portland Metro area – which includes Westbrook – is about $31,500, according to 2019 census data, compared to $29,000 in the state.

About 17% of Westbrook’s population is 65 or older, census records show, while eligibility for local housing requires residents to be 55 or older.

According to 2019 census figures provided by LaRoche, just over 7,500 local residents are age 55 and above, or 30% of the Westbrook population.

The housing project will help meet the need for some of the approximately 1,200 people on the waiting list for apartments for older residents through Westbrook Housing.

LaRoche said seniors would also benefit from having the high school just across the street, where there are public amenities such as a running track, and access to sporting and cultural events. Seniors also often volunteer at the school, LaRoche said, and the location could help strengthen the relationship between the school and seniors.

The project also includes improvements to nearby trails, sidewalks and crosswalks.

There is an area of the site that the city floods in winter to use as an ice rink. LaRoche said the authority is committing about $250,000 to build a new skating rink as a replacement at no cost to the city.

The new rink would have a concrete base that is easier to maintain, Bryant said. Officials have not settled on a site on which to build the rink. Potential locations include Riverbank Park, near the dog park by Hannaford or at a field off Foster Street.

“I skated there growing up, but I know for sure Westbrook Housing Authority has dotted their i’s, and when they do a project they do it top-notch,” City Council President Gary Rairdon said at Monday’s council meeting. “We are early in the stages, but I am ecstatic to see that property used to its fullest, not just a few months out of the year at best.”

The project would also enhance nearby trails that lead to Hansen’s Pond without affecting the area near the water.

Mayor Mike Foley noted at the meeting that with frequent thaws and uneven freezes, the current skating area often can’t be used and a new rink would be much more accessible.

“We feel that whatever we build will be much easier to utilize,” Foley said.

Ward 2 Councilor Victor Chau, who represents the area where the property is located, said he wants more input from residents, but so far he’s had no negative comments from neighbors with whom he’s spoken.

“Residents said it was hard to find a reason to be against senior housing,” Chau said. “Chris LaRoche bends over backward for the community and is excellent to work with. It is my ward. I have fond memories and I have a hard time finding a reason to say no.”

LaRoche also told the American Journal that the project probably won’t impact traffic, because it’s estimated that only 60% of residents there drive.

LaRoche said the project would be a few years out, if approved, and residents will have opportunities to vet the plans and options for the skating rink.

Officials said the property will still be accessible for skating while the project goes through the planning stages.

“I am very sensitive to open space and I want to preserve that,” LaRoche said.

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