Stockton developer proposes rentals in former Belfast school

Neighbors take issue with necessary zoning change
By Ethan Andrews | Dec 18, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews The former Peirce Elementary School, pictured earlier this year, has been pitched for redevelopment as apartments.

Belfast — A 103-year-old elementary school building could be converted to apartments under a plan by a Stockton Springs-based developer.

Reservoir Ventures LLC has proposed to renovate the former Peirce Elementary School at 24 Church St. to create an eight-unit apartment building, with six two-bedroom units on the first and second floors and a pair of one-bedroom units in the basement.

The exterior of the brick schoolhouse would not be substantially changed and some modifications would be made to the parking lot.

The building was an elementary school from its construction in 1915 until 2003, when it was consolidated with two other elementary schools under the roof of the then-newly constructed Captain Albert Stevens School.

It remained vacant for several years thereafter and then briefly served as a music school. Most recently, it was used as a medical marijuana grow house.

Matt Francis, a principal of Reservoir Ventures, a business he runs with his wife and one other business partner, said the apartments would be designed for young professionals.

"Something a little higher-end," he said. "I wouldn't call them luxury apartments, but for people who work at the hospital, athenahealth or the fish farm. Any of the places that are going to have people coming in to fill positions."

Reservoir Ventures currently manages a multifamily apartment building in Searsport. The company also manages single-family home rentals in Stockton Springs, and has previously managed rentals in Naples, Maine.

A sample lease included with the application lists a monthly rent of $1,500 for the two-bedroom apartments, which Francis described as a "target" price.

"We're not really looking to provide (specifically) affordable housing for Belfast," he said. "I know that's a hot topic right now, but so is all housing in Belfast now."

For the proposal to go forward, the City Council will have to approve changes to the contract zoning on the property to allow multi-unit rentals under a single-owner. Current zoning requires condominium ownership.

The council is scheduled to consider the zoning changes Dec. 18. The changes being considered for the Peirce School would also apply to the James P. White house across the street, which is now a private residence.

Reservoir aims to complete the renovations by June 2020, though Francis said that timeline could change based on the permitting process.

While the project is still in its infancy, the city already has received three letters of objection from neighbors, including one from an attorney representing the owners of the James P. White house claiming that her clients received repeated assurances from city officials that the Peirce School would not be converted to high-density rentals.

The White house owners and others raised concerns about the potential effect on property values and the possibility of the building becoming a "sober house." Two of the letters voiced support for an alternative proposal from an arts organization.

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