Troy Street in Auburn runs between Hampshire Street and Library Avenue and is being considered for discontinuance. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — A project slated to bring more than 50 housing units to the downtown is moving ahead, after clearing important hurdles. 

Last week, the Planning Board paved the way for the workforce housing development after voting unanimously to approve the site plan, special exception and subdivision plans. 

The development would take shape on a vacant lot on Hampshire Street near the Auburn Public Library, in the area used for overflow library parking. 

The developer, The Szanton Co., plans to bring 39 units of workforce housing and 14 market-rate units to the downtown – a mix that Szanton also produced in Bates Mill in Lewiston. 

The project has received a warm welcome from Auburn officials — both the outgoing and incoming administrations — who believe it will spark further redevelopment interest in the downtown. 

City Manager Peter Crichton said during a previous meeting that the housing units will be a perfect way to get more people living, working and shopping in the downtown area. 

Michael Chammings, director of economic and community development, said Tuesday that other building owners in the area are already redeveloping their properties. He also called The Szanton Co. “a class act.” 

Auburn officials said the project, which is slated to take about two years to complete, would represent a $10 million investment in Auburn, and provide $40,000 annually in taxes for the city. 

The purchase and sales agreement between Szanton and the city is contingent on Szanton acquiring the necessary financing. The city also offered Szanton tax increment financing of 30 years at 50 percent. 

The Planning Board vote last week came one day after the City Council held a public hearing and voted to request a discontinuance of a section of Troy Street, which runs between Hampshire Street and Library Avenue.

That vote was also necessary for the development team.

Chammings said Szanton is competing for Maine Housing tax credits, which is based on a points system, toward the development. Clearing the hurdles from the Planning Board and City Council adds points, he said. 

Under the development plans, the road would shift 15 feet to the east, creating a public access drive to the project. The discontinuance would take effect once the city receives notice from Szanton “when they have reasonable confidence that the closing will occur within 90 days.” 

At that time, a deed for the discontinued portions of Troy Street would pass to the abutting property owners.

Since the project was announced, there has been some criticism among library staff and supporters, who are concerned that the project will take away needed parking for the library. 

Two weeks ago, Auburn’s urban development coordinator, Doug Greene, said those working on the project are trying to identify about 35 to 40 parking spaces in the area that can replace the ones lost in the development. 

Chammings said Tuesday that the city is working on a larger downtown parking inventory, as well as planning pedestrian enhancements to make crosswalks and other high-traffic areas more walkable. 

“It’s an issue in the whole downtown, not just that area,” he said, referring to parking. “We’ve been looking at it well before this project came up.” 

He said there is plenty of space for parking in the area, but it needs to be “identified and put in place.” 

When initially announced a few months ago, the only city councilor at the time to oppose the Hampshire Street development was Adam Lee, who was also a candidate for mayor. 

He said Tuesday that he opposed the project because the city property was assessed at $378,000, but is in the purchase and sales agreement with Szanton for $45,000. 

“I thought moving forward on a deal without a more competitive and thorough investigation of other options for development there was hasty,” he said. “We shouldn’t underestimate the value of our downtown areas … I earnestly hope I am wrong.”

The City Council will hold a second reading on the Troy Street discontinuance on Jan. 8. 

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