A “millennial-driven” mixed-use residential development, consisting of 315 studio and one-bedroom apartments, has been proposed for three large parcels off Dennett Road adjacent to Interstate 95, located within Kittery's new neighborhood mixed-use zone. Credit: Submitted image courtesy of Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — A “millennial-driven” mixed-use residential development, consisting of 315 studio and one-bedroom apartments, has been proposed for three large parcels off Dennett Road adjacent to Interstate 95, located within the town’s new neighborhood mixed-use zone.

The Kittery Planning Board unanimously approved the proposal’s initial site sketch plan last week, submitted by land owners William Cullen and Sail Away, LLC and applicant William Wharff, a real estate developer from Massachusetts. The plan calls for three parcels totaling 23.3 acres at 76 Dennett Road to be merged to make way for four, four-story residential buildings.

The proposal as presented does not seek any waivers, and Shawn Tobey, of Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, Inc, noted it avoids all wetlands on the property “as much as we possibly could.” No wetlands would be filled as part of the development, he said, which also places emphasis on open, outdoor space.

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“In my opinion, this will be a very millennial-driven place to live,” Wharff said, noting his niece, a special needs teacher, recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire and “can’t find a place in Portsmouth to live. This will be a really nice opportunity for young people just getting out of school, and up into their 30s.” There’s also an appeal for people who want to downsize, he said, have an elevator, and one parking spot.

The development is a 50-50 split between studios and one bedrooms, with a studio coming in around 550 square-feet, and a one-bedroom at 725, Tobey said, based on market estimates.

Wharff noted he has been in touch with the COAST bus system about making a stop on Dennett Road, and has also talked to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which is “very excited about any residential they can find for anyone.”

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“We’re very comfortable, very confident this is well-located, well-designed,” he said.

Wharff’s proposal is the first to hit the town’s new mixed-use neighborhood zone, approximately 90 acres, after November 2018 approval by both the Planning Board and Town Council, changing it from its original designation as a business park. The switch merited abundant push back from residents and numerous public meetings, where people expressed concerns about what the zoning change could mean for the area’s character, traffic, and natural environment.

The neighborhood mixed-use designation encourages “higher density, mixed-use development that provides increased housing opportunities and a desirable setting for business while balancing such increased development with environmentally-conscious and ecologically sensitive use of land.” When the land held its business park designation, no development ever materialized, and town councilors warned the industrial possibilities under that zone were far worse than development under mixed-use.

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But the proposal also comes at a time when housing stock is at the forefront of the municipal conversation in Kittery, centered around workforce and affordable housing.

As proposed, one residential building with a mixed-use first floor component, possibly retail, food or office space, would be situated at the front of the property, along Dennett Road, while the other three residential buildings would sit back closer to I-95.

Tobey said they “tucked as much development as we could towards the highway side and away from Dennett,” while trying to “create a lot of open, outdoor green space” near the center of the property. The plan will also incorporate sidewalks, and possibly a nature trail to access the undeveloped land. According to Tobey, 75 percent of the lot will remain open space.

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“We’ve followed all of the rules for the mixed-use and designed it in a manner to meet your requirement,” Tobey said. “We’re staying out of the wetlands.”

The development would trigger a traffic movement permit through the Maine Department of Transportation, Tobey said, and the developer has already begun a traffic study. The plan calls for 405 total parking spaces on site.

“I think it’s a rather ingenious layout myself,” said Planning Board Chairman Dutch Dunkelberger.

Board member Ronald Ledgett said the proposal at hand “is the first test of how well we thought about the new zone.” He asked Wharff about the rental price points, as “one of the things we’ve obviously very interested in is finding a way to accommodate the people that really manage the infrastructure in the town.”

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“It’s not going to be Portsmouth rent, I can tell you that right now,” Wharff answered, saying he would return to the board with more refined numbers as the project moves along. He noted he envisioned the development helping local “bartenders and cooks” who can’t afford to live in the communities they work.

Planning Board members requested consideration for the large undeveloped lot next to the proposal, and how utilities or road infrastructure could possibly connect in the future, depending on what development may materialize.

Wharff said overall, the feedback he’s received around town has been positive, with people telling him, “We need the housing.”