2013-02-11 / Front Page

Bowdoin College seeks dorm expansion

In talks with Brunswick for zoning change
By JT LEONARD, Times Record Staff

Bowdoin College wants to buy a former assisted living home on Harpswell Road and convert it into student dormitory housing. But a zoning change is required to do it, and town officials worry about the effect it would have upon the neighborhood.

Located at 52 Harpswell Road, directly across the street from Brunswick Variety and Deli, the rambling white building formerly known as Stevens Home was used as residential care housing for elderly residents for at least 35 years. Town records for the property’s use are incomplete prior to the 1970s, but staff members believe it had been used for similar purpose long before then. 

Stevens Home closed in 2011.

Bowdoin signed a purchase-and-sale agreement in November. In December, its executive committee approved the purchase with hope of obtaining a zoning change no later than June 2013 to permit renovation.

Town councilors voted 8-1 last week to send the request to the Planning Board. 

Bowdoin plans to buy the building either way, according to Catherine Longley, the school’s senior vice president of Finance and Administration. If the zoning request is delayed or denied, “we’ll decide what to do with it then,” Longley said.

The building’s current owner is Good Will Home Association, part of the same organization that operates the Good Will-Hinckley charter school and other programs. Good Will-Hinckley was bequeathed the property by the will of the home’s founder.

Glenn Cummings, Good Will-Hinckley’s president, said Friday that negotiations for its transfer took most of the past year.

The previous the property owner is listed as Old Folks Home Association and had owned the property since the 1930s, according to information from town Assessing records. But few additional details are available.

Aside from the college’s request, several councilors expressed concerns that it is the latest example of how town zoning is outdated and rife with inconsistency. District 7 Councilor Sarah Brayman cited it as the latest example regarding a difference between ownership and use of properties.

The building stands in a mixed use zone, designated MU3, which contains only seven properties. Assisted living facilities are a permitted use within the district, but an institutionally-owned student dormitory is not.

Council Chairwoman Suzan Wilson noted the irony that, if a private citizen bought the property and either carved it into individual rooms or leased it to the college for the same purpose, it would be a permitted use.

A similar inconsistency affected the current municipal office building at 28 Federal Street. Planning Board members and councilors last year had to rezone several blocks surrounding the town office building to allow for continued office use after the town vacates it in 2015 for its new home in Union Street’s McLellan Building.

Brayman also worried about the symbolic boundary crossing by the school which, until now, has existed largely in the quadrilateral space between Maine Street, Bath and Harpswell roads.

District 4 Councilor John Perreault logged the body’s lone opposing vote Monday. He worried the town was showing favoritism to the college that might not be extended to a private citizen who made the same request.

“If the average Joe decided to buy that property, would we consider changing the zoning if he asked us to?” Perreault wondered.

Both the planning board and the college will hold public informational meetings so neighbors and property abutters can learn and comment about Bowdoin’s plans.

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