KITTERY, Maine – One of the largest apartment projects in the Seacoast region to date, the town Planning Board on Thursday gave final approval to the construction of 303 units – studios, one-and-two bedrooms – off Interstate 95 and Dennett Road.
The development is expected to contribute nearly $1 million annually to Kittery’s tax base.
The mixed-use residential development proposed by land owners William Cullen and Sail Away LLC and applicant William Wharff first appeared in front of the Planning Board in May 2019, and returned for review and amendment multiple times over the last year. The board required studies on traffic and municipal impact during that time.
The now-approved project is slated for 23 acres at 76 Dennett Road, where three lots are set to be merged as part of the construction of three residential buildings, five covered parking buildings, and one amenity building for residents. A new roadway and sidewalks would also be constructed to access the development.
Inside the residential building with frontage directly on Dennett Road will be 3,000 square feet of commercial use on the ground floor – likely a restaurant or food market, plans have noted.
The 303-unit project was the first proposal to hit the town’s new neighborhood mixed-use zone after it was changed from business park zoning by the Planning Board and then Town Council. The 2018 zoning change for the approximately 90 acres off I-95 and Dennett Road drew abundant push-back from residents at numerous public meetings, where people expressed concerns about what the zoning change could mean for the area’s character, traffic, and natural environment, as it encourages more dense development. Meanwhile, town officials sought to make a walkable, vibrant area, inviting to development.
Preliminary approval for the project was granted in September 2019, with the Planning Board requiring additional conditions to be met ahead of final approval.
In introducing his proposal last year, Wharff said he viewed the development as “millennial-driven.” Estimated rents for the units remain unknown at this time, but the project comes as the Seacoast area is in critical need of more housing.
On Thursday night via Zoom video conference, the Planning Board issued final site approval with nine associated conditions.
Planning Board Chair Dutch Dunkelberger said he and other board members received a handful of last-minute emails from residents asking the board to postpone a decision or deny the project.
“This has been over a year, this process started in May of 2019,” he said, noting two public hearings were held. “Everything is pretty much black and white (on the Planning Board). If you meet the ordinances, the Planning Board really has no option other than to approve the project.”
Dunkelberger said board members “can’t judge a project on character or whether we like it or not.” He said while he personally didn’t agree with the scope and size of the project, “you all have done an excellent job of meeting the ordinance requirements for the town of Kittery.”
Board member Stephen Bellantone added, “Emotions don’t play into this at this point.”
Dunkelberger noted the project did not require any waivers except one – for the driveway in order to “save a lot of trees.“
"I join with compliments for the developer, and I also as a resident wish to, for future consideration, look at this and see if this scope, size and impact all at once is what we want to replicate again,“ said board member Russell White.
Board member Ronald Ledgett said the zoning ordinance at hand “did not come out of thin air,” but was subject of much public discussion and municipal vetting in 2018.
“We’re getting the kind of development that we wanted when we proposed that ordinance change,” he said.
Shawn Tobey, of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates and representing the applicant, said since the last time the project was in front of the Planning Board in February, it received necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
He noted the project “will be improving Dennett Road” with a new turning lane, which will “greatly reduce congestion in that area.”