Apartments added to Westbrook development

A site plan amendment allowing more one-and-two-bedroom apartment buildings at the Blue Spruce Farm subdivision was approved by the Planning Board Tuesday with a close 4-3 vote.

The amendment will allow developers Risbara Bros. Construction to replace its initial plan for 32 condominium units with 48 apartment units in four, 12-unit buildings. The buildings will also feature inclosed garages available to some tenants.

For Risbara, the 12-unit buildings have been a hit, and are showcasing the housing demand in Greater Portland. There are already four such units on the site (all of which are 100 percent rented), behind the former Clarke home along Spring Street.

Four more are in construction now where Risbara had originally proposed two 24-unit apartment buildings.

But for some members of the Planning Board, the new plan is taking away from what made Blue Spruce Farm attractive in the first place – a mix of residential development. Now instead of four building types, there will only be two – single-family homes and the apartment units.

Board members Daniel Isherwood, Rebecca Dillon and Greg Blake voted against the amendment. Isherwood said he was disappointed about the condos being scratched from the development.

“There is a difference between homeowner and renter,” he said, adding that he expects some of the Blue Spruce homeowners may be disappointed as well.

However, the developers said they didn’t feel comfortable with forging ahead with the proposed condominiums in the current market, especially as the need for market-rate apartments is evident.

“We didn’t dare build those condos right now,” said Rocco Risbara. “We’re not sure they’d fit the market right now.”

However, Bill Risbara said the company is under contract to purchase an additional 50 acres behind its existing land, and will be pursuing the condominium project on the new land, as a second phase of construction. On Wednesday, Risbara said he understands the board’s concerns, especially given that they were largely unaware of what Risbara is planning for the new land.

“I’ll have a fine-tuned plan on my desk as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the second phase will include the condos, more single-family homes and apartments, a larger park and an extension of the trail system.

The land is currently two parcels, owned by resident Daniel Chick and an LLC under the name of Westbrook Land Company. According to its 2015 filing report, Westbrook Land Company is based in Auburn, Mass., and operated by the Spear real estate group of Florida.

Nancy St. Clair, who has designed the development, said the developers know it’s important to be diverse.

“We’re not forgetting that,” she said Tuesday. “We’ll be back.”

Rocco Risbara also said the impact on schools is projected to lessen with the changes. The projected impact from the entire project has changed to a range of 26-44 school aged children from 30-46.

Just across Spring Street, another residential development will most likely occur on what is now Twin Falls Golf Course, but the buyer, Priority Real Estate of Topsham, has not yet met with city planning staff.

Risbara said they are hoping to present a sketch plan of its second phase during a June meeting.

Blue Spruce Farm developers received approval Tuesday to build four more 12-unit apartments buildings in place of a proposed 32-unit condominium project off Spring Street. Risbara Bros. say there is a large market for apartments, with the company’s first 50 units already rented, and they are planning to include the condo project in a second phase of construction.