A Topsham development company has submitted a plan to build 38 single-family homes on the former Twin Falls Golf Club in Westbrook, directly across the street from a controversial subdivision that riled neighbors last year.
Jim Howard of Priority Real Estate Group bought the 52-acre golf course on Spring Street in June 2016. City records show he paid $1.2 million.
At the same time, tension was building on the other side of the road. Nearly 200 single-family homes and apartments were under construction at Blue Spruce Farm, and developer Risbara Bros. was planning a second phase with more than 300 units. Alarmed by the rapid pace of residential development, more than 400 residents signed a petition calling for a 180-day building moratorium and an overall review of Westbrook’s code of ordinances.
The Westbrook City Council ultimately rejected the moratorium and made little change to existing policies. An unrelated legal dispute forced Risbara Bros. to scale back the second phase of Blue Spruce Farm to 110 apartments, which were approved and are now under construction.
In the meantime, Howard was waiting and watching.
“We spent the last year and a half listening to what the community would like to see in a development,” Howard said. “We’ve attended some barbecues and met with some neighbors.”
Howard said Westbrook residents wanted to see large lots, green space and high-end homes with diverse styles. The size of the golf course would allow for up to 164 houses, according to a letter accompanying the sketch plan. Instead, the layout for Twin Falls Landing shows 38 single-family homes, some on lots bigger than an acre.
City Planner Jennie Franceschi said the individual lots range from two to nine times the minimum requirements in Westbrook.
“I think the developer has been hearing some of the concerns of the neighborhood and the community,” Franceschi said.
The plan also includes commercial development on the property’s frontage on Spring Street. Howard said the zoning in that area allows for smaller businesses such as a medical office or a small market. Whatever those buildings look like, Howard said, he wants them to fit into the neighborhood and act as a buffer for the nearby homes.
“We’re not looking to put up a strip mall,” Howard said.
Twin Falls Landing is the largest subdivision proposed since the debate over Blue Spruce Farm. At a community meeting Thursday, about 30 nearby residents asked questions about the development’s impacts on sewers and traffic.
Gail Vultee and Tish Alonzo, who live in neighboring houses on Spring Street, said they are still worried nearly 40 new homes will only add to congestion. But they were relieved to hear other aspects of Howard’s plan. He won’t allow buyers to subdivide their lots to build additional units, and he doesn’t plan to touch the trees that will act as a natural buffer for their properties.
“That was my concern, that I’d be out having a fire and there would be people right there,” Alonzo said.
Terry and Peggy Quinlan have lived on Middle Street for more than 40 years. The Quinlans live immediately next to Autumn Woods, the 110 apartments built as the second phase to Blue Spruce Farm.
“I hate to see all this green space built upon,” Peggy Quinlan said during the meeting. “At least I’m getting a feel for this, that there is an appreciation for the existing land.”
The couple were among the opponents to the Risbara Bros. projects. But they seemed more open to the design Howard presented Thursday night.
“That’s something we can support, the neighborhood can support,” Terry Quinlan said.
Also present at the meeting were Clint and Kathy Boullie, who sold the property to Howard last year. Kathy Boullie briefly addressed the group, saying it was a difficult decision to sell the golf course her father built. Howard has reassured her he will disrupt the land as little as possible.
“I probably wouldn’t have sold to anybody but Jim,” she said. She gestured to an enlarged sketch plan of the subdivision. “When I saw this, (I was) more than happy. Because I know what he could have done, and I think that’s what people need to keep in mind.”
The big yards and other amenities at Twins Falls Landing will come at a cost.
Howard estimated the homes will sell for between $550,000 and $750,000. That price is high for the market. U.S. Census data shows the median value for owner-occupied housing units from 2010 to 2015 in Westbrook was $194,800. Realtor.com estimates the median listing price for homes in Westbrook is $240,000.
Franceschi said the proximity to Portland and the large lot sizes would likely drive up the prices of homes in Twin Falls Landing.
“I think he sees a clientele out there that is going to be very excited about these parcels and their location,” Franceschi said. “Houses on lots just outside of Portland are just not available.”
When Howard bought the golf course, Greater Portland was experiencing a surge in new housing starts. More than a year has passed, but Howard said he still sees a demand. The two- to four-bedroom houses will be built as they sell, which could take as long as three to five years.
“There’s certainly a lot of housing needed in the state,” Howard said. “The market will tell us by midsummer whether or not it’s ready to absorb all 38 homes at one time.”
The Westbrook Planning Board will review the sketch plan at its Nov. 21 meeting. If approved, Howard said he hopes to begin construction on site in the spring.