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The Bucksport Town Council advanced a proposal to build market-rate, year-round rental units at 27 Main St., just outside the downtown core.
Patrick Kane, a project coordinator for Ellsworth-based Statewide Property Management & Consulting, said the proposal consists of four duplexes for a total of eight rental units, plus two commercial business units.
The parcel previously included five apartment buildings at 27, 31, 33 and 35 Main St., Bucksport Community & Economic Development Director Rich Rotella said during a presentation to the council.
In 2013, a fire broke out at 31 Main St. and the structure was demolished after being declared a total loss.
In 2014, the town bought the five properties and a sixth on Federal Street with an eye toward preparing them for redevelopment. The resolve authorizes the council to sell the property to Statewide Property Management for $1.
The town marketed the 1.1-acre property as a development opportunity with multi-use potential, with a prime Main Street location that was accessible to downtown shopping, restaurants and the town river walk. The site has access to public water, sewer, three-phase power and natural gas is available.
A number of proposed projects were subsequently presented to the town but weren’t accepted or fell through, said Rotella.
The council and the town’s community and economic development committee said on a number of occasions that they wanted to see a mixed-use development of commercial and residential use on the property, Rotella said. The town’s 2017 comprehensive plan and its 2021 housing market assessment, he noted, support developing moderate to high-end housing.
Like most of Maine, Bucksport is seeing growing demand for housing.
The 2021 housing assessment was completed by a consulting team led by the Versel Group Inc., a national real estate and economic development firm, for Forest Opportunity Roadmap, known as FOR/Maine, established in 2016 to address the needs of Maine communities that were affected by the closure and downsizing of paper mills.
That includes the 2014 closure of Bucksport’s biggest employer, the Verso Corp. paper mill, which resulted in the loss of 40% of its tax base and hundreds of jobs.
According to the assessment, Bucksport “committed to reinvest in improvements to its downtown and schools as foundational pieces of its recovery.”
Since 2014, the town has attracted several new businesses, including a proposal to build a land-based salmon farm at the former mill site.
Bucksport’s resident base includes those employed at local businesses, as well as commuters to Bangor, Bar Harbor, Belfast and other locations. It also includes a growing population of retirees and remote workers, the assessment says.
“The housing market in the Bucksport area is very strong at present, with virtually zero rental vacancy or available for-sale inventory,” the assessment says. “Commercial space in downtown Bucksport is almost completely leased, and there are few opportunities for renovations or adaptive reuse projects for housing.”
The town “recognizes the acute need for new, quality, market-rate housing in the community to meet current demand and to provide housing to support future business development activities at the Verso mill site,” the assessment continues.
According to a council resolve that authorized the sale of the property to Statewide Property Management, the goal for the sale of the property is to increase commercial spaces on Main Street and the town's “identified need for market-rate rental housing.”
Statewide Property Management submitted financial and engineering assurances for the development.
Speaking to Bucksport’s community and economic development committee meeting last month, Kane said Statewide has completed projects throughout Maine and New England.
“One of the most appealing tracts of land and opportunities is 27 Main St.," he said.
One of the things that struck him about the property, Kane said, was the potential for multi-use development; the proposal would build the duplexes first, then build-to-suit commercial units.
The proposal for the Bucksport site includes accommodating a hill that forms the rear portion of the acreage. The three-bedroom, two-bath units, he said, would be built into the hill.
The depth of demolition into the hillside would depend on its composition, Kane said. But, he added, “I don’t anticipate the hill will be a show-stopper.”
The apartment units would have amenities such as granite countertops, high-end light fixtures and stainless steel appliances, he said. They would be heated with heat pumps, with baseboard heat as a secondary source.
The duplexes would be built from modular units and, depending on the town’s approval process, the goal would be to have the duplexes completed by this fall, he said, and include parking garages on the lowest level.
Statewide, said Kane, is developing a project in Trenton that’s similar to the one proposed for Bucksport.
The definition of market-rate varies by location, Kane noted: Statewide’s Trenton units are being rented for $2,395 per month, plus utilities.
“Bucksport isn’t there yet,” he said.
The Bucksport rentals could be $1,800 to $2,000 per month, he said.
Statewide offers one-year leases, but is moving toward two-year, he said.
“These are not Airbnbs,” he added.
Councilors said that, on the whole, they liked the proposal.
“It’s the best thing I’ve seen for that lot,” said one councilor.
Another added, “I do like that, when it comes to the housing piece, it is more high-end. I certainly see potential here.”
Rotella told Mainebiz the next step for Statewide in the process will be the closing on the sale of land followed by Statewide having to go to the planning board for approval of a subdivision and then a subsequent meeting to approve the project.
The town originally paid $249,999 for the land in a sale from the Estate of Jay Feldman. The town stated on a number of occasions that it would be willing to sell the land at a discounted price as an incentive for the right project as part of assisting with development of the property. The town has sold all of its land in its industrial park for $1 and sold Wilson Hall to a developer for $1 as well.