Auburn councilors like one downtown housing plan, but not another


AUBURN — Two downtown housing developments, both being built by Coastal Enterprises Inc., couldn’t be more different, according to city councilors.

One, approved by the city last summer, is bringing low-income housing to the border of the city’s Riverwalk.

Councilors and Mayor Jonathan LaBonte grilled Coastal Enterprises Inc. representatives about the low-income plan at their meeting Monday night. LaBonte objected to making the development exclusively low income rents; Councilor Joshua Shea objected to a deed restriction on the plan that would keep it low-income housing for a 90 years.

“To me, that’s just handcuffing our downtown,” Shea said Monday. “I, as a small business person, would not want to move in next door to this kind of pool of disposable income. What they have for disposable income will likely be next to nothing. So we are largely crippling the downtown by putting this low-income housing here.”

But LaBonte had different things to say Tuesday night, urging the Auburn Planning Board to approve a five-unit town home project that will replace the vacant Auburn Lanes at Academy and Main streets.

“We are fortunate that a developer like CEI was able to come forward with a more urban design plan,” LaBonte said. “What you see before you is a good example of this.”

The Planning Board did approve the Auburn Lanes town home plan Tuesday by a 5-1 vote. Ken Bellefleur voted against it, saying he disapproved of using public funds for housing projects.

The plan now calls for razing the original 261 Main St. structure and subdividing the half-acre parcel into seven lots. Individual town houses would be built on five of those lots, all facing Academy Street. A common area, with parking and a carport, would be built on the sixth lot behind the town houses.

The seventh, which would face Main Street, would be reserved for future development. That could be more residential development or retail.

The project is estimated to cost $1.25 million. Coastal Enterprises would use an $850,000 federal Neighborhood Stabilization Grant, given to the city and the corporation last year, to pay for part of the work.

Units would be sold to medium income residents, according to plans. That means residents making about 120 percent of the median income for Central Maine — about $68,000 for a family of four.

According to Tom Donahue, construction analyst for developer Coastal Enterprises Inc., work demolishing the vacant bowling alley and constructing the town houses could begin in late spring or early summer, with work wrapping up in the fall.

On Monday, LaBonte said he’d like councilors to guide future developments and make sure they look more like the Auburn Lanes project.

“We already have a high concentration of low-income families downtown now,” LaBonte said Monday. “We don’t have higher income people moving into the downtown, and that’s why we have a revolving door of storefronts. The ability to sustain any business is challenged by the demographic of the downtown.”

The low-income project calls for razing three buildings on two parcels across Main Street from Auburn Lanes, starting from the red brick apartment building at 268 Main St. — on the east side of Main Street, opposite Academy Street — south to Bonney Park. It includes the two buildings with addresses 272 and 282 Main St. All told, the three buildings have 22 apartments.

All three buildings would be replaced with a single apartment building, a mix of three-, two- and one-bedroom units.

Donahue said they would be reserved for residents making 60 percent of median income — about $35,000 for a family of four. A three-bedroom unit would rent for about $780 per month.

Work on the river side low-income project should begin early this spring, Donahue said.

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