By Tom Eastman
BRIDGTON, Maine — Builder Justin McIver of Main Eco Homes and developer Mark Lopez of Criterion Development believe they have come up with a housing design that works great for those aged 55 and over who are looking to downsize into an affordable, low-maintenance and energy-efficient home.
It's called "The Cottages on Willett Brook," where they plan to build 60 units on 29 acres at 234 S. High St.
Each would be located off a 10-unit semicircle on an .13-acre parcel, and each would have its own garden plot.
"There is nothing like this in the country that we have been able to find," said McIver before leading a tour of the project's 2014-built model on Portland Road.
The tour was given May 20 for Fryeburg Academy's trades class.
He said his larger, more expensive homes have built a following for their energy-efficient, eco-friendly designs, but many people have told him they cannot afford homes in the $500,000 range.
By contrast, measuring just 640 square feet, the low-maintenance Cottages on Willett Brook are priced from $129,000.
"The movement is to go smaller, and for people to downsize," said McIver. "This fulfills that need."
Garages and storage units are optional, as are a screened porch and rooftop solar panels. The garage and storage units are available for rent, and not for purchase, at a cost of $100 a month for the garage and $25 a month for the storage unit.
The layout is to have 10 units per pod, or cul-de-sac, with a garden plot for each homeowner in the middle of each pod.
Located a half-mile from Bridgton Hospital, the complex is close to nearby shopping in Bridgton, with a walking trail connecting the complex to the nearby Hannaford supermarket.
Also nearby is Long Lake and Moose Pond, and Shawnee Peak, and Bridgton Highlands Golf Course.
As of May 19, two of the units had been sold, and at a Memorial Day weekend open house, more than 100 people visited the model.
More weekend open houses are planned, notes McIver.
Many of the visitors at the open houses were local residents, although interest has been expressed from afar as well from those looking to come to the western Maine, either for year-round living or for the warmer months.
From the outside, the vinyl-sided model appears tiny, measuring just 16 feet wide and 40 feet long — but the interior seems spacious enough, with cathedral ceilings, two bedrooms, a full kitchen that features stainless steel refrigerator behind a center island, a cozy living room with space for a wall-mounted flat-screen television, and a full bathroom. Space-saving designs include a fold-up coffee table, behind-the-door bathroom cabinets and side-sliding doors.
Work has recently been completed on an 1,800-square-foot clubhouse/community center. The clubhouse features two levels, with a kitchen, bathroom and large common area on the first level, and a fitness area with cardio equipment and weights on the lower level.
McIver says it's all about addressing the socializing needs for community gatherings for family and friends, and for the active lifestyle associated with those aged 55 and older.
Still, residents won't have to worry about shoveling snow, raking leaves or mowing their lawns, as all outdoor maintenance is taken care of by homeowner association fees.
Foundations for 10 of the units have been poured, and the framing for one of the units is now up.
"It's tough for people to downsize, but as people get older, it's freeing," said McIver, noting that in many cases, he expects his market will be those who no longer can take care of their larger houses.
Many people don't want to move out of the area, so the new complex provides a new, affordable option, he said.
"They need a place to go but they don't want to leave the area," he said. "For $129,000, you can own one of these places for cheaper than it is to rent."
He added, "It's really a simplicity of life. People are tired of high maintenance and costs with their larger homes, and their heavy heating bills."
With the $9,000 rooftop solar panel option, he estimates that total yearly energy costs are just $400 a year. A 30 percent federal tax credit for the solar comes with the 12-panel package; opting for a few more panels would result in zero annual utility costs.
Were the total $129,000 cost financed at 4 percent over 30 years, and with the $9,000 solar panel upgrade, the monthly mortgage payment for one of the homes is around $763, he said. That total includes the estimated $100 monthly association fee for all grounds maintenance on each individual lot and common areas.
"So, with the solar option, and with no down payment, and with the $400 energy costs per year, that's $796 a month in total costs — and of course, most people would make a down payment, which would lower that even more," said McIver.