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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FRANK EARLEY's picture

Get the word out...

If your poor your not welcome in Auburn. That fact was made quite obviouse yesterday by quite a few of you.
I'd be willing to bet alot of you are "small buisness owners". Wilma, you take the cake.
First of all I've been living at the same location for fourteen years. I shop in downtown Auburn I pay all my bills, I worked two jobs for twenty plus years, retired went back to school, got a degree, and went back to work. making alot more than alot of you, but thats not important.
My Social securaty is such that I don't even qualify for mainecare, food stamps heating assistance or anything else from the state, not that I would take it if I could.
Yes I got sick and as a result I became pemanatly disabled. I make less than one half of one paycheck I was used to. Yes, I am poor, and I will not stand by and let anyone say I'm not good enough to please you small buisness owners.
I have seen examples of other low,or no income people and they make me sick. They literally destroy buildings. Not just in downtowm either. What really hurts me personally is that I am lumped into that group. When I hear someone say we can't use anymore low income people, I take that personally. If a low income person knows how to handle money and live off a budget, you may not even know there low income.
Its bad enough to be disabled, unfourtunatly very low income comes with that. I challenge anyone out there to try to live on my income, using your own financial knowledge, for one month. You wouldn't be able to do it.
I'm only 53 years old, hopefully I have a few years left in me. I would never discriminate against anyone just because of thier income. As long as they contribute to the comunity as best they can, I say welcome. If thier going to destroy buildings and live off the state, I feel the same as anyone else. Just don't put me in the same group as those people. I worked hard to be where I am now.

 's picture

Semantics Frank...

If you can tell us of another way of talking about this situation without using "low-income" please do and most of us would be glad to oblige. We are not trying to ban anyone from Auburn. We have a large number of places where the Auburn Housing Authority and others provide housing for low income folks. We have a larger percentage of low income folks in Auburn than other areas of the state. We provide a higher percentage of free and reduced cost meals at our schools than average in Maine. So, we are anything but anti low-income in this city.

What I personally would like to see is a plan to place low income people in currently vacant apartments or homes in Auburn. We have many landlords who have vacancies. Getting low-income folks into this housing stock would help the city and the low-income folks themselves. The landlords would have some incentive to keep their properties up, adding to the tax base. Instead we have "non-profit" developers buying up land, destroying buildings and building large low-income buildings. There are lots of examples throughout the country that point out the problems with concentrating large numbers of low-income folks in one area. Cabrini Green in Chicago is pretty much the poster child for this problem.

Like it or not, large concentrations of low-income folks historically don't attract new businesses to an area. Without this influx of businesses, the areas lack jobs or money and, almost without exception, deteriorate. Mixed housing seems to be a better alternative. Building mixed income housing on upper floors with small business offices/retail on the ground floor seems to pick up entire neighborhoods. Check out the Smart Growth Movement.

I'm sorry you feel those of us who have talked against this project are anti low-income. The truth is we aren't. We are for smart growth. The area in question is prime development for a bakery or coffee shop or other small retail spot. Wouldn't a restaurant be nice there, overlooking the river. That would add jobs and spruce up the neighborhood. It would fit with Auburn's Master Plan. If the developer wanted to put housing on upper floors, that would be great.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Joe I completely understand where your coming from

I quess the answere to your question of more than one way to identify low income. Maybe refering to people as resposible low income until they prove you wrong.
Enough of that, as far as a resturant or cafe at that site I don't know. I never thought a bowling alley was a good choise.
As for the housing, I feel landlord resposibility is very important. Its not the answere to all problems but it is a problem. I live in a nice nieghbohood. Right next to a very nice looking building. The landlord lives somewhere out or state. noone can even identify him let alone find him. The building is totally destroyed inside. There is so much water damage from broken pipes, its going to have to be completely gutted.
Now those were not low income units. A management company was incharge of it after many thousands of dollars of work was done to the interior,as well as the exterior. Now its in ruins. There's four really good family units gone and thats just one case. I hate living next to a vacant building.
I think your idea of mixed usage downtown makes alot of sence. I feel its important for someone to moniter a building closely. As far as the bowling alley goes. I think alot of traffic studies need to be done before anything is built on either side of that street. There's not a whole lot of room on that road and there's alot of traffic.
Sorry if I seemed to take things to personally, sometimes I just have bad days. Then again on those days I should stick to the comics page.


 's picture

Not the whole story

I find myself in an awkward situation. I go to council meetings and have been somewhat vocal in my opposition to Mayor Labonte's way of running the city. I have not been a fan of his policies.

I was at the meeting last night. I talked with the mayor. In this case he is making the best of a bad situation. The city staff basically shoved this down the last council's throats with little time to research as it "had to get done". The council trusted the staff and they were bamboozled as a result. The mayor got the developer to at least promise to donate a buildable lot on the Main Street side of this (bowling alley) project.

The project across the street is a lot more convoluted. CEI sought city funding in the form of a TIF last year and was denied by the council at that time. They were not in favor of this project for the same reasons the current council is not in favor of this project. But the planning board approved it, CEI got funding elsewhere, (I believe Maine State Housing, though I am unsure) and now will develop it into low income housing. I'm told there is nothing the city can do to stop it - despite two consecutive city councils' opposition.

We, the citizens of LA, need to step up and get these kinds of projects stopped. I'm not trying to stop low income people from moving into the area. I am trying to get our vacancies filled prior to using more ttaxpayer money to fund these unneeded projects. Plus, we are condemning our neighborhoods to 99 years of low income housing when we do these projects. The Webster School project is a prime example. It is a great looking rehab, but it must be low income for 99 years to come. The neighborhood is depressed now. Will it continue to be for 99 more years?

We need to seriously deal with low income in an intelligent manner. I don't seek to marginalize low income or ban them. I seek to work out an equitable solution and stop enriching these "non-profit" developers who are using the low income citizens to make lots of money for themselves. It does not make sense to spend $1,250,000 to make only $600,000 or so as a return.

Mike Lachance's picture

Well said Joe, but there has

Well said Joe, but there has got to be a way to stop this is EVERYONE on the council is opposed to it. The council represent the PEOPLE. If the people say no, why shouldnt the Planning Dept go pound sand?

 's picture

I've asked that same question before

This year has brought a new group to the planning board, though there are still some people left from last year's board. I asked the city council last year to do away with the planning board and start again. I think the planning board has been one of the major obstacles to proper growth and development in this city.

But the last board approved this plan and there is nothing the city can do to stop it. I hope CEI would see how unhappy the people of Auburn are with this "development" and stop it in it's tracks. The mayor is seeking authority to discuss this with Maine State Housing. He will ask the city council formally at next Monday's meeting. I hope others will be there with me to lend our voices in support of the mayor on this issue. Heck, even if you agree with this development, come to the council meeting and let your voice be heard.

 's picture

Stay strong Ken

Ken Bellefleur seems like the only one on task, why use tax money to make CEI profits? COme on folks federal grant money is still TAX money.
Stop the madness.
1.25 million for 5 units or 250,000 each.

Mike Lachance's picture

Hats off to Councilors

Hats off to Councilors Bellefleur and Shea.

In a time when Auburn should be bringing BUSINESSES back to downtown, it seems Labonte and his friends just want to bring in Fedreal money and low income subsidized residents to downtown.

The Auburn Lanes spot would be better is it were a breakfast joint, a coffee shop (not a convienience store... got that a block down) or a small retailer or such.

But alas, the FEDS dont give out free grants to developers to develop BUSINESS SPACES!

No more low-income housing in L-A, we have all we need. The more we build the more we need, as the welfare folks will keep flocking here...

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Now I've heard everything

Mr. Joshua Shea, you have such a way with words.
" I as a small buisness owner would not want to move in next to that kind of disposible income", Lets redifine that.
I don't want to move in next door to those people who can't afford to spend money in my buisness. That pretty much says it all.
I live on sociel security, not by choice, because of illness. I pay all my own bills, I even pay for my health insuranse and prescription coverage every month. I don't have alot of disposable income. I don't even know if I could afford these so called low income units.
Mr. Shea, If by some miricle my illness disappeared tomorrow, I would go back to work in a minite. then I would have tons of "disposable income".
Your statement says it all. No poor people in my neighborhood. get the hell out of here and go somewhere that tolerates people like you. There are plenty of them, thats why I live in Maine.

 's picture


Fact is we can't just build low-income places everywhere. We have attracted to many people to this area as it is with little or no income. If you don't start having places that attract others there is no one to buy from your little businesses. No one is saying that low income people aren't good people for the most part but a city can't be run on low income residents or welfare checks nor on the backs of the elderly like you and me. I just wonder why we need to keep building and building when so many places are empty as it is. Of course the government has made it almost impossible to own a home. With all the rules and regulations in this state and this area you can't even repair the home you have without permission and a permit which of course costs money. Of course it has to be regulated somewhat but they are regulating people right out of their homes or fixing them up. If my front steps are rotten and a danger why do I have to pay the city in order to replace or repair them? People are not gonna shop downtown no matter if they live right down there if they have no money. What happens to the taxes if everyone just gives up or loses their home? Do we keep building apartments and we all move there?


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