Crystal Lake Estates plan faces Council concern

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GRAY — A proposed contract zone concept for a 400 unit senior housing project was met with questions and some opposition by the Gray Town Council Tuesday night.

Rick Liberty, representing American Retirement Communities, provided an overview of the proposed Crystal Lake Estates project, which would not meet current town zoning requirements and would need a contract zone agreement with the town in order to move forward with the proposed scale of the project.

Liberty called the project, located off of North Raymond Road across from Crystal Lake, a “wonderful opportunity for the community.” Built in several phases, Crystal Lakes Estate would feature high-density cluster housing for people 55 and over.

He said potential benefits to the town included increased tax revenue and the addition of affordable senior housing options in the area. His presentation included information about Maine’s demographics on aging. He also said that American Retirement Communities could be involved in improvements at Wilkies Beach and the problematic intersection of Route 26 and North Raymond Road.

Liberty’s presentation included an overview of the various amenities that would be offered at Crystal Lake Estates. He had also made a presentation on the proposal in November.

Councilor Sandy Carder and Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher had questions at the Feb. 20 meeting about the density of the project compared to what would be allowed under current zoning, and also brought up concerns about the proposal’s location and implications for traffic.

“It’s a tough one for me. I’m in favor of 55 plus housing, but the location and the density are serious areas of concern for me,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher polled the council as to their willingness to move the concept to the Planning Board for an introductory presentation, which would be another step in the contract zoning process but not a final action.

She and Carder said they did not support advancing the process at this time, Councilor Richard Maguire said he wanted to see more information, and Councilor Jason Wilson seemed supportive of moving the concept to the Planning Board if the council got more information about the project scale. Council Vice Chairman Bruce Foshay was absent Tuesday night.

Based on that poll, Gallagher said the Crystal Lake Estates project would not be moving forward to the Planning Board at this stage.

Councilor Richard Maguire, who also had questions about the project, said he would like to see more information and seemed caught off guard by the council poll Tuesday night.

“I’m surprised this has become so closed off, that we’re not exploring this further,” Maguire said later in the meeting. “I guess you’re saying that’s up to the developer to do that.”

Gallagher said that the developer could come back to the Council with “more information” and “more detail.”

“At this time, it fails to pass on to the Planning Board for the next step, so it’s up to the developer for the next steps,” Gallagher said.

Liberty indicated that his group would be willing work to try to provide information to address the concerns.

“You’ve raised concerns. Understood, and we need to address those concerns,” Liberty said. “I think we can get to all of your questions if we have them very specifically laid out.”

Liberty said the project lines up with the town council’s goals of the strengthening the financial health of Gray and increasing measurable growth. He said that “this is the best use of this property” and noted that the development wouldn’t add any students or costs to the school district.

Wilson suggested that the contract zone process may need to be reworked if the council is going to ask for more specific information up front when discussing the proposed project concept.

“The learning exercise here is that this isn’t working,” Wilson said about the contract zoning process.

According to Gray’s contract zone policy available on the town website, that process involves nine steps. The discussion that the council had this week about whether it “conceptually endorses” the project and sends it to the Planning Board is only step-four in that process. If the Council advances a concept to the Planning Board, there are several more additional steps in the process including multiple public hearings.

Liberty this week described American Retirement Communities as a “national real estate development company.” His presentation said that the company’s “unique independent living communities are unprecedented and will set the standard for the future of affordable congregate living.”

Gallagher had asked during the November meeting for clarification about who was involved in the project, which at the time was referred to in a memo from town staff as a proposal from Libfam LLC.

Liberty’s presentation Tuesday night included information on the American Retirement Communities management team in charge of the Crystal Lake Estates proposal.

That management team list included several people who already work closely with the Liberty family’s business portfolio: American Retirement Communities CEO Anthony Frantianne who became counsel to the Liberty family in 2012, CFO Robert Johnson who is a Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Liberty Group Holdings, Kevin McCarthy who is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of the Liberty Companies, and Gail Godbout who serves as the Director of Management for the Liberty Companies.

Former Gray economic development director Beth Humphrey is also listed on the American Retirement Communities management team.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

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