AUBURN — A packed house at Rolly’s Diner transformed the normally calm monthly meeting of the United New Auburn Association into an unofficial public hearing on a proposed Loring Avenue affordable housing development.

Kevin Bunker, consultant for the Developer’s Collaborative project, explained the plan to build 48 affordable-rent townhouses on 15 acres at 37 Loring Ave. in New Auburn to the crowd of nearly 100 people who crowded into the Mill Street diner.

But the theme of the evening was set with the very first question — before Bunker had discussed how the project would fit into the neighborhood or how a city Tax-Increment Financing district would be structured.

“What can we do to stop the Loring Avenue project in the first place?” an unidentified man in the far corner asked.

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said the Loring Farms project wasn’t even on the association’s agenda Tuesday night but was added after councilors discussed it last week.

A more formal city meeting and public comment period on the matter is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, in the gymnasium of Walton School, 92 Mary Carroll St.

Councilors are scheduled to discuss it in another workshop Sept. 12, with a vote to approve financing for the project scheduled later during the Sept. 12 regular meeting.

According to Bunker, the project would build 48 rental townhouses close to one another at the center of the 15-acre site at at the bottom of a basin, surrounded by trees. Bunker said the townhomes would be built around wetlands and should be mostly hidden from the view of surrounding residences.

The $3.8 million project would rely on tax credits from the Maine State Housing Authority. The authority reviews and grades projects on their viability and community support, with the highest-graded projects winning support each year.

Community support, in the form of tax incentives and grants, are important parts of the grade.

According to the terms of the Tax-Increment Financing deal, the project would pay all property taxes on the assessed value of $183,300.

Half of the annual property taxes generated by new development on the project would be returned to the developer for 30 years, according to the proposed tax deal. Bunker said the project would likely pay more than $40,000 in property taxes per year.

Developers Collaborative is also seeking $250,000 in federal HOME funds from the city of Auburn’s allocation.

Neighbors at Tuesday’s meeting asked what the project would do to property values, how it would change traffic in the area and if it would change stormwater runoff to their properties.

Jim Hadfield of Jordan Avenue said it’s the kind of project that Auburn should not welcome.

“Why do we need rentals?” he said. “We need people owning homes for the tax base, for the schools, for services. We really get nothing out of this as a homeowner.”

Realtor Deb Morin agreed.

“All of us pay high taxes here in Auburn,” Morin said. “If it were being built to be sold and these people would be contributing and paying taxes, it might be more palatable. They might be more willing to accept it. But the hard part of this is, what’s happening now, it becomes a burden on us.”

But local lawyer Chris L’Hommedieu said he had worked with Bunker on projects and has faith in him and could give the project the benefit of the doubt.

“I’ve done an enormous amount of research into developers and how these developments work,” L’Hommedieu said. “And there are a lot of developers out there who are scum. They suck. But I have not gotten the kind of ‘suck’ feeling from Kevin at all. The bottom line is, we don’t know what the factors are right now. How many people will go into the properties, and how many cars? What’s going to happen to tax values, and are we going to be publicly financing this thing?” Hommedieu said he’s collecting an email list to communicate with neighbors.

“Some of my friends are worried about this, and I’m worried about it,” he said. “I don’t want to look at a bunch of buildings. I like my view, but stuff has to go somewhere. And as long as it does not completely destroy my world, maybe it’s not such bad thing.”

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