2015-05-08 / Front Page

So. Maine property eyed for development

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


The Scarborough Town Council heard plans this week to convert The Southgate House, which dates back to the early 1800s, and the land behind it into an affordable housing complex. The building was built by noted doctor, farmer, judge and businessman Robert Southgate. It was also once the summer home of prohibitionist Neal Dow. (Michael Kelley photo) The Scarborough Town Council heard plans this week to convert The Southgate House, which dates back to the early 1800s, and the land behind it into an affordable housing complex. The building was built by noted doctor, farmer, judge and businessman Robert Southgate. It was also once the summer home of prohibitionist Neal Dow. (Michael Kelley photo) SCARBOROUGH – A Portland-based affordable housing company sees a piece of property in Scarborough that dates back to the early 1800s as the perfect place for a new housing facility.

Avesta Housing was expected to appear before the Town Council this week to request a contract zone at 577 Route 1, the old Southgate House Avesta is hoping to develop into a 50-unit affordable housing development. On April 24 Avesta purchased the property from the estate of Jerome LePelletier.

A contract zone is needed when a particular use is not permitted in a zone. The use must have some sort of community benefit. A contract zone is needed in this case because the project proposes more units than the underlying zone — Town and Village Center Fringe (TVC3) — allows.

“That particular zone where the building is located generally limits the number of units to 12,” said Town Planner Dan Bacon.

Kyle Ambler, a development officer with Avesta Housing, said a few of Avesta’s properties are in historic structures, but “this particular property is a good opportunity due to the size and number of units” it can accommodate.

“It seemed like a great opportunity. We have never worked in Scarborough before, but the town has expressed continued interest in bringing affordable housing and has an eye on historic preservation,” Ambler said.

“The project will address a number of important objectives identified in Scarborough’s comprehensive plan, including preservation of historic structures and the diversification of housing stock in the community,” Daniel Riley, senior project manager at Sebago Technics wrote in an April 29 letter to Bacon.

Bacon said not only will the project address the town’s efforts in affordable housing and historical preservation, it is also in line with a recently passed vision for the Dunstan area.

“The town has been working pretty hard in designing and redesigning the Dunstan area. We have a Dunstan Revitalization plan that was passed last fall,” Bacon said. The revitalization plan recommends adding a variety of housing and businesses to neighborhood to reinvigorate the area, which serves as the entryway from the south.

Avesta’s plan is to locate eight units in the historic house, the former estate of Robert Southgate, a prominent judge, farmer and businessman in the area. The rest of the units, which will include eight efficiency, 29 one-bedroom and five two-bedroom units, will be located in a three-story multiplex building behind the house.

Ambler said individuals making 50 to 60 percent of the median income can qualify for one of the units. There is no age limit.

“We don’t have an age target in this particular property. It is open to any age group,” he said.

Avesta, Ambler said, is exploring historic tax credits to help finance the project, which will also include a 50-space parking lot to the side of the farmhouse.

Ambler said the project will restore the historic farmhouse, which dates back to the early 1800s, “to its original grandeur,” but could include the demolition of the front porch.

Ambler said two barns on the property, which date back to between 1850 and 1965, will remain. According to Avesta’s contract zone application, the barn closest to the house will be renovated and serve as community space for the new building. The second barn will not be renovated “for reuse at this time.” A third barn built in 1900 and a more modern shed will be removed from the property.

Southgate built the house between 1800 and 1805, according to information from the Scarborough Historical Society. Southgate and his wife Mary King — the sister of William King, Maine’s first governor and Rufus King, a signer of the U.S. Constitution — raised 12 children in the home, although several died before adulthood. Southgate, who came to Scarborough in the late 1700s with all of his possessions in tow, died in the home in 1833 at 93 years old. The Southgate property once stretched from Route 1 to Milliken Road and Payne Road.

Southgate headed the Scarborough Turnpike Corporation, which built the Cumberland Turnpike, a toll road through the marsh that connected Dunstan Corner and Oak Hill. The turnpike, which is Route 1 today, was the first one in Maine. According to a historical narrative for the Scarborough Historical Society by Mary Pickard, it cost 8 cents to cross the Cumberland Turnpike by horse and 25 cents by stagecoach. The tollhouse was located across the street from the Southgate House, where Southern Maine Indoor Flea Market is today. Pickard notes that Josiah Paine, a stagecoach driver, was so opposed to paying the 25 cents to cross the marsh that he created a road from Dunstan to Stroudwater in Portland. It is Payne Road today.

The Southgate House once served as the summer home of Neal Dow, the former mayor of Portland and Prohibition Party presidential candidate who was active in outlawing alcohol in Maine in the mid-1800s. In more recent years it was a restaurant and apartment complex.

The meeting Wednesday, Bacon said, is the first step in the process and is designed to give feedback to the applicant and see if there is support for the project. The project will then go to the Planning Board for review, a public hearing and preliminary approval before coming back to the council. The council will have a first reading, public hearing and approval regarding the contract zone. The plan would then bounce back to the Planning Board for the traditional site plan review.

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