BATH — City Council rejected a plan by Portland-based Szanton Company to build a mixed-income residential development at 26 Summer Street, a city-owned property that formerly housed the YMCA.

The city sent out a request for proposals on the property in early 2017 to discover what interest there was in developing the property. Two proposals, one from the NewHeight Group and one from Szanton Company, were presented at the May council meeting.

Since that first presentation, the NewHeight group withdrew its proposal due to other opportunities that became available, coupled with the difficulty of making the financing work for the site.

At the Aug. 2 regular council meeting, the chief concern about the proposal by the Szanton Company – which would create mixed-income residential apartments in a manner similar to the recently opened Huse School property – was the lack of on-site parking.

The proposal would have residents use spaces in downtown Bath, in locations like the Water Street parking lot and along side streets.

Bath Housing Director Deb Keller said the need for housing like what the Szanton Company proposed is in great in the city. While Bath has housing for very-low-income residents and high-income residents, anyone in the middle is finding it increasingly difficult to find a place to live.

“If you’re a family in the middle, there are no options for quality, moderately priced rentals,” said Keller. “We’re not meeting the needs of our workforce.”

She pointed out that Bath Housing has noticed a 10 percent increase in the cost of rent in the last six months. Earlier in the week, she was meeting with a family that was being forced out of their apartment due to a 16-percent rent increase they couldn’t afford. “They’re going to be homeless at the end of the month,” she said.

The majority of residents at the meeting agreed that the project had merit, and was needed, but rejected the location citing concerns about parking issues.

“I don’t have any issues with the development, I have issues with the parking,” said Lisa Marie-Stewart, owner of Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine on Front Street. She said after sitting on the parking committee for six years and hearing the concerns and difficulties of customers, the idea of giving up parking spaces didn’t sit well. “We need our parking available for our customers.”

Leslie Dolinger, director of the Patten Free Library, was concerned that a development across the street from the library parking lot would lead to difficulties.

“I’ve been director eight years, and almost not a day goes by where there is not an issue with parking,” she said, adding any impact to the current lot would be “devastating to our operations.”

According to Andy Jackson of the Szanton Company, parking studies showed that there was space available for a parking plan to work. In studying parking availability downtown, he found that of 270 spaces in the area, an average of 106 were available. The Water Street lot by the police department, according to the study, typically “had a minimum of 23 open spaces.” The development would include between eight and 10 spaces on-site.

“We just don’t see a huge parking crunch in the downtown in Bath based on what we’ve seen,” Jackson said.

In addition, the current zoning of the property does not require any on-site parking, and the RFP never specified parking issues.

“We think what we’re proposing is a parking plan that’s consistent with the zoning of the site, it’s consistent of the city’s comp plan, and it’s consistent with our experience with parking in vehicle usage and at our eight other properties,” said Jackson.

Despite the numbers, council expressed concerns based on testimony of business owners, residents, and their own past experiences. Councilor David Comeau pointed out that he has dealt with parking issues downtown in the past, and that a lot of work had been done to correct that. In the end, council moved to reject the proposal and send out a new RFP with “fine tuning.”

“I move that at this time, we reject the only proposal on the floor, with that being said I would task all parties to take some time to fine-tune another RFP, and that RFP to be released at a future date,” said Councilor Gregory Page.

Whether or not the RFP is fine-tuned doesn’t make much difference for the Szanton Company, as they likely will not return with another proposal. Due to strict financing constraints, the proposal brought before council was the only way the company saw the project working. An abundance of ledge on the site that would cost over $1 million to remove makes adding a parking garage an expensive proposition. The Szanton Company’s model of securing highly-competitive tax credits to offset the cost of development would be made impossible by the additional cost.

“They rejected our proposal, and we’re not going to propose the same thing and expect a different result,” said Nathan Szanton, principal of Szanton Company. “We don’t necessarily take that as a rejection of us,” he added. “They were doing what they thought was best for the city.”

Keller said that the rejection of the proposal was a “missed opportunity” by the city. “While I am extremely disappointed and saddened by the outcome, I hope this conversation has helped raise the awareness of the housing issues in our community.”

“I look forward to working with the City of Bath on alternative solutions to support the workforce of Bath so both the business community and our residents will thrive,” she said.