Landscape architect Robert White discusses affordable housing possibilities with a group of local charrette participants in Kittery. Credit: Hadley Barndollar | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — A housing charrette team got to work Friday morning, tasked with presenting to the community, just 10 hours later, some viable, innovative and feasible ideas for affordable housing in the Foreside.

The charrette, put on by the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast and the town’s inclusionary housing working group, has focused on the town-owned 25 Walker St. site, the old fire station that currently houses American Ambulance Service. The two-day workshop began Wednesday with a site walk and community listening session, and continued Friday with a day-long work session and later a reveal presentation.

The charrette’s goal is to provide Kittery officials and citizens with tangible ideas that could possibly be implemented in the future, as well as the opportunity to determine what won’t work. The charrette examines zoning, land planning, density opportunities and more.

The town has placed a strong focus on affordable housing, because while it’s population remains economically diverse, property values and rents continue to rise. Officials have expressed the desire to create opportunities for the town’s workforce to be able to “buy in” to the community. On the other side of the coin, seniors who have called Kittery home for many years are starting to be taxed out of their homes.

[Kittery town officials, public scope out site for possible affordable housing project]

At Wednesday night’s community listening session, attendees expressed support for a 3- to 4-story building appropriate with the scale of the Foreside, as well as unit types such as apartments, cottages, condominiums and townhouses, mostly studios or one-bedrooms.

Attendees, and those who responded to a survey, pushed for a design compatible with the existing character in the Foreside, “affordable housing that looks like market-rate.” Green space was also important, even if limited, and the idea of a community gathering space.

Parking was an important point of discussion as many wanted a design that accommodates parking on-site, but also considers approaches to reduce the need for parking. Parking placed underneath the building was suggested. As the town continues to grow, as well as employment numbers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the Foreside has been met with parking struggles.

As far as demographics, attendees talked about Foreside restaurant servers, shipyard employees, families and seniors. One survey respondent wrote, “I mean affordable for someone making $30,000.”

Approximately 200 unique ideas were contributed by community members during the listening session and via an online survey.

[Local group pushes landlords to accept tenants with vouchers]

“For me, I found a shared understanding of why we were having the conversation,” said Town Manager Kendra Amaral. “There was focus on making sure the diversity of age, income-level, and space needs were being addressed. Community character and architectural character were important. Participants also wanted attention paid to the impact on our transportation infrastructure, traffic and parking, as the group discussed density, multi-unit structures.”

At Friday’s work session, which brought planners, architects, officials and members of the public together in one room, participants debated ideas, vetted proposals and crunched numbers.

Charrette team member and GPI landscape architect Robert White said community members at Wednesday’s session made it clear this needs to be a project “taking care of Kittery people.” He argued in order to take care of more people, the group needed to entertain the idea of more density.

He pushed for including the neighboring parcel to 25 Walker St., which houses an insurance company and a day care. “An opportunity to basically build a corner on that side of the street,” he said. “A vignette picture of a whole block of the Foreside.”

Town Councilor Matt Brock expressed concern around that parcel being privately owned property, and that the charrette was focusing on the town-owned land in question.

“But you’re studying the town’s future,” White rebutted.

[Kittery hotel proposal continues to vex town officials]

“I think a point is we want something to actually come out of this,” said Fair Tide Executive Director Emily Flinkstrom. “So choosing a piece of land the town owns …” Others warned that introducing the second parcel at the reveal session could alarm attendees.

Tom Emerson, an Economic Development Committee member who is one of the town’s leads on the charrette project, said they’re balancing issues of affordability, and character and aesthetic “to fit into the Foreside.”

The lot in question is .4 acres, and 16,000 square feet. Emerson said he felt they needed to target their demographic. Based on a Qualified Allocation Plan ratings, Kittery is a 5-point town for senior projects, indicating a great need, while it is a 3-point town for family projects, which includes any kind of studio apartments or micro-housing.

Some officials tossed around the “big house” idea, using some examples currently situated on Government Street. From the road, the structure appears to be one, big house, but actually contains four or five different units. Planner and charrette team member Ivy Vann noted “that would also cost you about $1 million to build.”

The group threw around ideas of cottage clusters, street frontage with mixed-use, a village concept and more.

“We are talking about maybe moving this model around the town,” Brock said.

Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.