Developer plans to create apartments for seniors in former woollen mill

LONDON: A developer now plans to create apartments for seniors in a former textile mill.

A nonprofit organization has purchased the former Robinson woollen mill next to Thompson Lake to develop it into 70-plus apartments for seniors, the Board of Selectmen was told Thursday night.

The Caleb Group of Lynn, Massachusetts, bought the 5-acre property at 283 King St. on Nov. 9. It develops and manages affordable housing in 30 communities throughout New England, including Lewiston, Bangor, Portland, Old Orchard Beach, Biddeford, Saco, Sanford and North Berwick, Maine.

Suzanne Decavèle, director of acquisitions for The Caleb Group, attended Thursday’s meeting with Virginie Stanley of INVIVID Architecture and Andy Jackson of Dovetail Consulting, both of Portland, to introduce the proposal.

She previously met with Town Manager Adam Garland, Code Enforcement Officer Kingston Brown and Oxford Historical Society President Patricia Larrivee.

The group’s mission is to address western Maine’s housing crisis by restoring and converting the 1865 and 1898 brick buildings into 47 units, remove an old warehouse and add a new brick building with up to 30 units. The buildings will be three and four stories, according to architectural drawings.

Plans include creating a large courtyard with recreation and gardening amenities, restoring the bridge between King and Pleasant streets for public walking and bicycle traffic, and taking steps to preserve the gristmill.

Under the proposal, Maine residents over the age of 62 earning 60% of Oxford County’s median income will qualify to rent one-bedroom apartments for $853 a month. Rent will include utilities, parking, seasonal services and trash removal.

Decavèle said the group and its project partners have completed initial architectural and engineering drawings, and developed a site survey.

They also applied to have the complex added to the National Register of Historic Places, which could make it eligible for historic tax credits and funding opportunities. They will apply for funding through MaineHousing’s Rural Affordable Housing Rental Program.

Decavèle said building and Planning Board applications are being prepared. She estimated the project will take up to four years to complete.

Jackson, a consultant whose business specializes in affordable housing grants and financing, said the cost, including demolition, site remediation and construction, will be in the range of $32 million.

The acquisition marks at least the third time it has been envisioned for housing. After the Robinson Manufacturing Co. mill ceased operations in 2004, owner John C. Robinson planned to redevelop it but never moved forward. In 2009 the town foreclosed on it for $244,920 in unpaid taxes.

Oxford sold the mill in 2009 to Chuck Starbird of Minot, who envisioned developing luxury condominiums for seniors. His plans were approved in 2018. He died the following year.

In other business, selectmen approved the $16,643 bid from Professional Vehicle Corp. of Rumford to set up the Oxford Police Department’s new cruiser, which was delivered this fall but has not been put into service.

Chief Rickie Jack said all officers on the force will be outfitted with new body cameras.

Jack also gave details about his department’s response in the aftermath of the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston.

“The shooting incident created a lot of work and anxiety,” he said. “Since that night I’ve been in touch with a lot of our business owners, talking with them (about) security. Everyone has been really supportive.” The town manager “accompanied me one day on business checks. They were glad we stopped in and of our concern for their patrons’ safety.”

Selectmen also approved a $150 donation from Bernard and Joyce Reiner for the town’s Keep Oxford Warm Reserve Account. They also appointed Deputy Clerk Kathleen Dillingham as registrar of voters.