The proposed development would add 529 housing units and eight commercial lots in a largely rural part of Freeport. Courtesy of Sebago Technics

FREEPORT — A massive development proposed in Freeport would add more than 500 housing units to a largely rural area. Residents are worried that, if approved, it could be too much too quickly for the small town. 

The development, still in the earliest planning stages, proposes 329 single-family houses, 60 apartment units in five buildings, 140 homes in 70 duplex buildings and eight commercial lots off Desert and Old County Road. The development would be essentially across the street from another large development, The Beacon Residences, which includes 144-units and was approved last month.

Kylie Mason, vice president of project delivery for engineering firm Sebago Technics, said the project, which is “nowhere near the design phase,” would preserve at least 30% of the parcel’s open space and would feature trails and other recreational opportunities with great “public benefit.”

The land is currently owned by L.L. Bean. She stressed that, if approved, the development would not appear overnight, but would be built up over a period of years, possibly even a decade. 

The application, submitted by KV Enterprises, would require a zoning change to allow for a higher density, as the land is situated between an industrial and a rural-residential district. The suggested “transition zone” would allow for residential housing in the industrial area and increase the number of homes allowed per acre in the rural-residential zone.

The planning board is scheduled to discuss the zoning change on Wednesday, Nov. 4, but the board will not be making any decisions, according to town planner Caroline Pelletier.

If and when the board does decide on the zoning, there will still be an additional public process for the development itself. 

Planning Board Chairperson Sam Kapala said at a meeting Oct. 7 that he didn’t think the project or proposed zoning change was a “slam dunk.”

“This would be a huge change for Freeport,” he said, noting that the proposal was nearly four times the size of the Beacon Residences, a subdivision that also faced opposition. 

“If it were in the middle of town, I think it would be a different conversation,” he said. “The character of this part of town is really rural and this would really turn that on its head.” 

He agreed that it’s important to see a mix of housing options and housing in town, and recognized that allowing some housing in the industrial zone could be an appropriate move. 

However, he added: “I’m just not sure rezoning a chunk of the rural residential district is going to be the right fit for the town.” 

Board member Aaron Canaan had a different view. 

“If Freeport’s going to have any development with higher density, this is not a bad candidate to look at,” he said. “This is a fairly unique location in town that might be very conducive to some density.” 

Already, the development proposal is meeting a significant amount of public pushback. 

Erin Clough, a Freeport resident, said the approval of the Beacon Residences came as a surprise to many, and adding another development right on its heels feels like Freeport might be moving too quickly. 

Clough is a member of a rapidly growing Facebook page, Freeport Residents for Responsible Development. The group has more than 450 members, all of whom are concerned about the impact of more than 500 new homes on the character of the town as well as the schools, police, fire department, traffic, infrastructure and other services. 

Members are writing letters to town staff ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, voicing their support for a more conservative approach moving forward.

They are concerned, Clough said, that the town is “adding new housing at rates that town services and the schools won’t be able to absorb without drastic changes.” 

Freeport needs more housing and more affordable housing, she said, but needs to “grow in a way that’s healthy and adds to our community but doesn’t damage what we have, which is a community of people that really care about each other.” 

Full occupation of both developments could add nearly 2,600 people to town — that’s almost exactly one-third of Freeport’s existing population of about 7,800. 

The eight commercial lots, ideal tenets of which have not been identified, also present a problem in a town that is rapidly losing retailers from its downtown, Clough said, adding that investing in creating residential housing for the downtown might be a more appropriate use of resources. 

“The attractiveness of moving to Freeport could be compromised if the downtown is no longer vibrant and full,” she said. “A development full of houses that can’t sell seems far worse than trees and open space. (The planning board) needs to do some serious thinking about what they want Freeport to look like.” 

Comments are not available on this story.