Student housing complex proposed behind Washburn Drive

Originally Posted on The Maine Campus via UWIRE

A New York-based developer proposed a new student housing complex in the area behind Washburn Drive to the Orono Town Planning Board last month. If approved by the planning board, Park 7 Development LLC — also referred to as Park7 Group — plans to break ground this summer and open its doors as early as fall 2015.


The Avenue at Orono proposal consists of 270 housing units that will house upwards of 900 students, making it the largest complex in Orono, with 70 more units than The Grove. Park7 Group hired WBRC Architects and Engineers to design The Avenue.


The announcement coincided with the reduction of on-campus housing for juniors and seniors.

When the proposal was presented at the March 19 council committee meeting, many residents voiced concern about the project’s impact on vernal pools and a recreational trail that runs through the proposed development. The Orono Land Trust has met with WBRC and representatives from Park7 Group to find an alternative route for the trail.


The Orono Land Trust declined to comment.


Local residents expressed concern about the impact on the nearby wetlands and hydric soils.

To be in compliance with the clustered development ordinance, the developer conducted a survey of wetland and hydric soils at the proposed location of The Avenue. An accurate survey of all wetland and hydric soils determines the space allotted for development, and local residents questioned the accuracy of the land survey at the March 19 meeting, Town Planner Evan Richert said.


“There was concern that there was some more wet areas than were accounted for. Under our ordinance, those wet areas need to be fully accounted for,” Richert said. Hydric soils are considered to be “unbuildable” land and determines the total number of units that can be built at The Avenue. A new survey is underway to account for all wet areas, which the planning board will review.


Public discussion of the proposal will continue on April 16.


If the planning board approves the development, the area around Washburn Drive will require infrastructure upgrades, Richert said. Any upgrades to Washburn Drive will include bicycle lanes, improving crosswalks and creating a turning lane.


The water supply line would have to be extended into Washburn Drive.


“The water supply line, in order to serve a property of this size, would have to be looped to improve reliability and pressure,” Richert said.


The Orono sewer system underwent a major upgrade giving it “ample capacity” for handling developments like The Grove and The Avenue. According to Richert, those upgrades were completed in 2011.


Safety along Park Street was a concern residents expressed at the meeting. The Rangeley Road, Park Street intersection has a history of long delays during peak traffic hours and even collisions, which some residents fear would worsen with a new development. The Maine Department of Transportation has recommended a roundabout at that location, which “should go a long ways toward solving that intersection’s issues,” Richert said.


The Avenue at Orono is one among many recent complexes the developer has built to meet the rising demand for student housing in what has become a nationwide student housing boom.

Park7 Group was founded in 2010 by CEO Ron Gatehouse. The developer has built student housing complexes across the southern states, including San Marcos and Lubbock, Texas; Norman, Okla.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and Tallahassee, Fla.


Proposals similar to The Avenue at Orono have popped up in Columbia, S.C., and Columbia, Miss. In March 2014, the city council in Columbia, S.C. approved The Avenue and construction will begin this summer and is expected to open in August 2015. Proposals in Missouri have met resistance, and at press time, were not approved.


According to research done by The Maine Campus, The Avenue at Orono is the first complex the developer has constructed in the Northeast. Repeated attempts to contact Park7 Group by phone and email went unanswered.


Prior to founding Park7 Group, Ron Gatehouse co-founded another student housing developer, Copper Beech Townhomes Communities, which built complexes in Columbia, S.C., and Greenville, N.C. Gatehouse left Copper Beech in 2010 to found Park 7 Development LLC.


In 2013 Copper Beech Townhomes Communities was bought by Campus Crest, which built The Grove in 2012.


Orono officials said that Park7 Group is aware of the problems Orono faced after The Grove opened and wants a good relationship with the town.

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