AUGUSTA — Officials looking to revitalize the city’s Sand Hill neighborhood say providing incentives to encourage owner-occupied rental housing could help restore the neighborhood’s sense of pride.
Leaders of an ad hoc committee studying ways to revitalize the Sand Hill and North End of Water Street areas, said in a recent update to city councilors that the revitalization of aging apartment buildings in this area to make the area cleaner and more welcoming will take time and money. .
And they look to the past of the former neighborhood of Franco-American immigrants to try to give it better prospects for the future.
Pat Paradis, a former city councilman and co-chair of the committee, said when the now-destroyed Edwards Manufacturing plant brought French-American and other immigrants to Augusta, many families established housing together in multi-level buildings. , with relatives living on the first floor and renting the upper floors to family members.
Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud, co-chairman of the committee, said that at the time, a sense of pride drove these building owners to maintain their yards, which he said were so clean “you could to eat”.
“But over the several decades of turnover, families have moved and these properties have been sold,” added Michaud.
He said many of the owners who took their place were absentee investors and didn’t care how their properties looked. At this point, Paradis said, almost every street in the neighborhood now has one or more buildings that need to be rehabilitated, or simply demolished, because they are no longer safe to live in.
“A lot of them are gone,” Paradis said of Sand Hill residents living in the buildings they also rent out to tenants. “So other people come in, often they do the buildings a huge disservice, because they float right next to Augusta for a year or two and then they leave. So we want to save this kind of apartment. If you make a spot here, a spot there, it doesn’t have to be the whole street, but it shows the importance, for the other owners, of bringing them up to date, of bringing them up to speed. So that’s what we’re trying to do. But we need money.
The city is currently seeking proposals from contractors to clean up trash, brush and underbrush on public properties in the Sand Hill area, such as city parks and sidewalks, according to City Manager Susan Robertson. The approximately $50,000 project would be funded by money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Michaud suggested also using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to encourage people to buy apartment buildings in the neighborhood, fix them and live there. Other councilors expressed support for finding ways to encourage owner-occupied housing, both to improve the neighborhood but also to provide more housing to help address the current housing shortage.
“The biggest thing that can happen there is to encourage owner-occupied homes,” Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins said. “And if we can get the renovation funds to provide a program where we get people to come in and own, and it looks like that’s happening there now with the Iraqi community, where it’s families and they earn a living here. And that’s where the pride of ownership comes in. It’s going to change everything up there.
General Counsel Courtney Gary-Allen said Iraqi families living in Sand Hill had done a lot of redeveloping one end of Washington Street and encouraged the committee to involve them in its efforts, which Michaud and Paradis said they would welcome. .
“Sand Hill was born as an ethnic neighborhood, and you know, it’s going back to its roots; it’s just a different culture,” Michaud said. “We certainly welcome any contribution or involvement from the Iraqi community that wants to be part of it. Many of them call it their home now. It is their future as much as that of anyone else who now lives on the hill. We don’t want to turn a blind eye to anyone who will help make this neighborhood safe, clean, happy, friendly, and family-oriented.
Gary-Allen, who said he grew up in poverty in Sand Hill, warned that development on Sand Hill could drive out low-income families currently living there, in response to Michaud describing how the Munjoy Hill neighborhood in Portland has transformed from a run-down 40 years ago to what is now one of Portland’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
“We’re not looking to make Sand Hill, Munjoy Hill,” Michaud said. The committee wants a mix of housing there, to continue to include low-income housing and labor housing.
General Counsel Raegan LaRochelle said she spoke with a couple who had moved from Florida to a house on Northern Avenue in Sand Hill who wanted to develop the second floor of the house into an apartment, but said code officials from the city seemed very concerned that they were meeting the city’s requirements. that the owners provide two off-street parking spaces in this part of town. She suggested considering reducing these off-street parking requirements to encourage the development of more housing there.
Michaud said a potential starting point for revitalization efforts could include developing a grassed area that sits prominently in front of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. He said the committee had been in talks with the late Reverend John Skehan, head of St. Michael’s Parish, which includes massive St. Augustine, but that discussion would likely have to resume due to Skehan’s recent death.
Michaud said the spot is now just a grassy knoll which he says, with the cooperation of the church, could be full of flowers and shrubbery and include a large sign welcoming people to Sand Hill.
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