An initial site walk in advance of an upcoming affordable housing charrette was held Wednesday at the chosen 25 Walker St. site. Credit: Hadley Barndollar | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — Housing advocates, property owners, town officials and interested community members gathered at 25 Walker St. early Wednesday evening for an initial “walk and talk” of the Foreside site that will be spotlighted by a workforce housing design charrette later this month.

The town of Kittery is inherently economically-diverse. But as market rates continue to rise, many who work in the community and make a middle-level income have to look elsewhere for housing. The workforce isn’t able to buy-in, said Town Councilor Matt Brock, and on the other hand, longtime residents are being squeezed out because of rising prices.

The two-day charrette, which will take place on Oct. 24 and 26, is being held by the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast, with the help of Kittery’s inclusionary housing working group. The purpose is for experts, members of the public and stakeholders to spend two days examining housing possibilities for a particular piece of land. In this case, it is the town-owned property on Walker Street where the American Ambulance Service currently operates; the old fire station.

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Sarah Wrightsman, executive director of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast, said the objective “isn’t to build a project, although sometimes that does happen.”

Rather, charrettes are held to examine zoning, town policies and offer education to the greater community on issues of affordability and housing. They give towns tangible research and ideas to run with, if they choose to explore future projects.

Brock said what Kittery is doing “is a grassroots effort to see if we can try to make a dent in this issue.” He serves on the inclusionary housing working group, and has spoke often about the need to get a workforce housing project in town.

Town Planning and Development Director Adam Causey told the 25 people in attendance at Wednesday’s site walk that the property is zoned as mixed-use commercial. To one side is a preschool and insurance agency, and to the other is residential units. He said the 0.4-acre site presents density challenges, something developers typically desire when building affordable housing.

“The whole Foreside district is pretty much mixed-use,” Causey said. “A unique part of the Foreside.”

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Fire Chief David O’Brien said the town leases the property to the ambulance service, and the existing building is connected to town water and sewer. Presently, he said, the new fire station would likely have space to absorb the service if the land were to be used, but they don’t yet have the configuration to do so.

Tom Emerson, a Kittery resident who serves on the Economic Development Committee, will be the design lead for the charrette. He said the site has potential for vertical mixed-use, or “out-of-the-box ideas like cottage housing.”

The group walked nearly the entirety of the Foreside neighborhood, to see what uses exist where, and the relationship between them.

On Oct. 24, kicking off the charrette, a site walk will be held at 3:30 p.m., followed by a community listening session at the Kittery Community Center at 6 p.m. On Oct. 26, experts and stakeholders will work the entirety of the day brainstorming project ideas, zoning changes and more. At 6 p.m. that night, a community reveal presentation will be held at the Community Center.

Public participation is encouraged in each part of the charrette.

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