CONWAY — A spokeswoman for Avesta Housing Development Corp. of Portland, Maine, confirmed Monday that the company is no longer planning to build a senior housing subdivision on Banfill Road in Conway.
The 29-acre property located off Tasker Hill Road is owned by Joseph and Donna Mori of Conway.
The Moris had an agreement to sell their property to Avesta, described on its website as a “non-profit affordable housing provider” founded in 1972.
Speculation is that the decision not to proceed with the project was due to a change in covenants by other members of the subdivision.
But in an email to the Sun, Sara Olson, Avesta’s director of development and communications, said abutters’ objections were not why the company decided to withdraw from the project.
“The wetlands and the neighbors’ complaints were not the reasons for the decision not to pursue the project. As the planning progressed, the site did not align with our proposed plan,” Olson said.
“Avesta is dedicated to creating and providing more affordable housing in Maine and New Hampshire, so we will continue to explore potential opportunities in the region,” Olson said, adding, “We would be honored to work with the Town of Conway on creating more affordable housing for its residents should the right opportunity arise.”
The 55-and-older project proposed for Banfill had been opposed by abutters who felt the proposal for two large 30-plus units would be detrimental to the character of the rural neighborhood. They also raised concerns about possible wetland impacts.
The project had been granted conditional site-plan approval for a four-lot subdivision by the Conway Planning Board on May 9.
That approval remains in effect through Aug. 8, but project engineer Josh McAllister of HEB Engineers of North Conway told the Sun that Avesta will not pursue that extension when the board meets July 25.
Town Planner Tom Irving said Avesta in March had requested a special exception to allow a wetland and/or stream crossing for proposed access and utilities in the Wetlands and Watershed Protection Overlay District.
According to March 20 meeting minutes, McAllister said the intent was to reconstruct a driveway to the barn that currently crosses the wetland buffer.
By a 4-0 vote, the ZBA found the applicant satisfied the requirements, and the board granted the special exception.
In May, Avesta project engineer Patrick Hess confirmed the company hoped to build senior housing on the site of the Moris’ barn. He also said that the two structures could be as tall as three stories.
Abutter Don Litchko expressed his concerns about the project in a letter to the editor published before the May 9 meeting. Litchko contended the reason behind the subdivision request was geared at outvoting the three landowners who own a covenant that prohibits building housing in the Banfill subdivision of less than 1,500 square feet.
That did not meet Avesta’s desire to have apartments as small as 750 square feet, Litchko asserted, so he said they contacted each of the three subdivision owners and asked them to sign documents to revise the covenant. They refused.
Since each owner was entitled to one vote, Litchko believes Avesta reverted to the proposal to subdivide the acreage into four individual lots. As a consequence, they would “then have enough controlling votes to override the desires of all the original subdivision landowners and amend the covenant,” Litchko said.
Other abutters include Charles Macomber, Stirling Perrin and Russ Lanoie, Litchko said.
Three owners — Noel Lockwood, Perrin and Howard Morse — hired attorney Edward D. Alkalay of Alkalay & Smillie PLLC of Conway to fight the proposal.
They amended the covenants and easement restrictions June 3 to state that “any dwelling unit shall be at least 1,500 square feet of floor area, not exceeding 36 feet in height from ground level, exclusive of porches, breezeways, sheds or garages” and that “each lot shall be used as a residential home in accordance with the rural nature of the other surrounding homes.”
That change resulted in blocking Avesta’s plans to build dwelling units as small as 750 square feet.