Demolition Alert 22: First Street in Bangor, Maine

Another city in Maine decides that tearing down their historic housing stock will lead to economic development–similar to our recent Demolition Alert on Lewiston, Maine. In this case, Bangor, Maine wants to tear down six historic homes to put up new rental units. From the story:

A developer wants to build apartments it hopes will breathe new life into a troubled section of the city, but some residents say the proposed project would move the neighborhood in the wrong direction. Mike Myatt, executive director of Bangor Housing Development Corp., envisions a series of townhouse-style apartments near the intersection of First and Davis streets geared toward people working along the mile-long stretch of Main Street from Hollywood Casino to Bangor’s downtown. Last summer, Bangor Housing purchased six First Street buildings for a total of $500,000 in the area behind Shaw’s supermarket . . . The development is still in the very early stages. WBRC Architects of Bangor sketched a site plan that features two main buildings with a total of 24 units, one on each side of First Street. Each building has a parking lot in the rear and there is a “community building” as well . . . Instead, she said she and several other neighbors would like the city or Bangor Housing to look into other options, such as a condominium, single-family homes or owner-occupied homes. Cahill questioned whether the city had done enough to market the street for potential development of condos or new homes. One of the strategies outlined in that part of the neighborhood is to attract 30 new homeowners to the area by providing assistance for people willing to close on properties and fix them up. Cahill said she doesn’t see potential for more apartments causing a transformation in the neighborhood.

We agree with the local residents on this one for a number of reasons. First, the new development will very likely be totally out-of-character with the neighborhood. Second, by building them as rentals from the beginning means they will likely always be rentals–the current buildings lend themselves to multi-use. Finally, Bangor Housing Development Corp is a not-for-profit which means the buildings will be taken off the property tax rolls–further hollowing out the property tax base.

We like the idea of renovating the buildings into condominiums with two to a building. That would offer a path to home-ownership which would give residents an incentive to maintain their space. This could be augmented with a “lease-to-own” program. Bangor Housing Development Corp would still control general property maintenance through an association that would be essential in preventing the “broken window” problem.

Additionally, the area is ripe for other innovations given its location. Generally, the commercial area adjacent to these properties are more of the big-box variety and there is no small-scale retail that is close to the waterfront park. Why not rezone First Street to multi-use and allow small-scale retail to develop? Also, Second Street Park would be another source of customers to feed such a multi-use strategy.

Rezoning would not only spare these buildings from the wrecking ball, but would increase the cash-flow potential of the other buildings on the street. The article mentions that for rentals to work financially, these buildings had to be chopped up into very small apartments. Commercial use could better utilize the large space these buildings have to offer while incentivizing the landlords to fix up their buildings.

Finally, we just want to point out a pet peeve of ours . . . this typical excuse is always used as justification for tearing down our historic building stock:

Most have weak foundations and other structural issues that could make rehabilitation a costly option.

Please, most of these old homes, by today’s building standards, are built like a tank. Yes, they may have issues, but restoring them is almost always a better deal than building new–from an economic, environmental, and aesthetic perspective. This is just a convenient excuse that too many people simply swallow without objection. We would like to see proof.

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