MOUNT DESERT — Four commercial properties in downtown Northeast Harbor with a combined assessed value of $1.57 million have been acquired by Mount Desert 365, the nonprofit organization formed earlier this year to promote economic development and create workforce housing.
One parcel is a quarter-acre lot at 6 Old Firehouse Lane with a main house and two cottages that previously were owned by Albert Hamor. The three other properties are at 147-151 Main St.
Asked why MD 365 bought the four properties, Executive Director Kathy Miller said, “They were for sale, and if there are spaces that become available, we want to make sure they are secured for year-round use.”
She noted that a number of Main Street businesses are closed in the winter, and the apartments above them are unoccupied.
The ground floor of 147 Main St. is leased to Maine Gifts by the Sea, which is a co-op of local craftspeople. It is closed in the winter.
“Some of the people in the co-op live here year-round, so we are hoping that with more vitality [in the downtown area], they will be interested in staying open year-round,” Miller said.
There is an apartment on the second floor of the building, formerly owned by PB North LLC.
There is an apartment on both the second and third floor of the 149 Main St. building, previously owned by Kathleen Meador, trustee, but neither has been occupied for some time, according to Miller.
Half of the ground floor of 149 Main St. is occupied by WMH Architects, and the other half by the Schneible Fine Art gallery. It is open only in the summer, when it also displays its Treasures from Asia sculptures on the adjacent 151 Main St. lot, the previous owner of which was Maine Trading Company. The lot was the former location of restaurants including 151 Main and Tan Turtle Tavern, which was destroyed by fire in 2009.
“That lot has been vacant for a long time,” Miller said. “We are hoping to create something there.”
MD 365 has extended existing leases to the current business tenants of the three Main Street properties.
Alex Birdsall, communications manager for MD 365, said of the acquisition of those parcels, “Securing not just an individual property as it came on the market, but the three sequential properties, allows us to have a little bit more control over what the south end of Main Street looks like.
“It could possibly foster the kinds of businesses and residences that would help serve as a draw,” he said, “to be an anchor at that end of the street and be a reason for people to walk all the way down that way and visit all of the shops.”
The house and three cottages on the Old Firehouse Lane lot have not been occupied for a couple of years. Miller said that because of its location adjacent to the municipal parking lot and with a view of the harbor, “It is a critical spot in terms of drawing people up to Main Street from the marina. If we kept it as residential, that would be OK. But we feel it has a higher and better purpose as mixed commercial/residential.”
In May, MD 365 announced it had acquired five parcels of property in Northeast Harbor for building affordable housing.
Three of the lots are contiguous, on Neighborhood Road to the west of the Mount Desert Elementary School ball field. One lot is at the corner of Manchester and Neighborhood roads, and another is on the south side of Summit Road at the intersection with Millbrook Road.
Miller said of the three Neighborhood Road lots, which total 2.75 acres, “We want to gather together planners, architects and landscape architects and figure out the best way to use those, what’s the right number of houses to put there to create a little community.”
She said two modest houses could be built on the 0.25-acre Summit Road lot.
“Our plans are always to talk to the neighbors first,” she said. “Then, this winter, we hope to be selecting architects. We want to reach out to architects on the island to see what’s going to be a good fit.”
She said that, depending on plans for building houses on the 0.79-acre Manchester Road lot, MD 365 might need to go to the Planning Board for subdivision approval.
“But we have a lot more work to do on that; those are longer range plans.”
Miller said it is understandable that some people are “nervous” about MD 365’s intentions.
“So, we are always trying to convey the message that we’re trying to develop a year-round community, on the business-commercial side and the residential side. We’re trying to put together plans that make sense and reflect the [character of the] community. We want to create things that the community will be proud of and, therefore, will be supportive of.”
So far, Miller said, funding for MD 365 and its property acquisitions has come from private donors.
“We have not received nor have we sought grants yet,” she said. “We hope to hire someone to do a full-scale development program. We will be doing some fundraising to make all of this happen.”
She said it shouldn’t be hard to find buyers for whatever housing MD 365 builds, because Island Housing Trust already has a list of qualified buyers who currently live off-island but work here and would like to live here.
“We know that if we have qualified home buyers, we can borrow the construction funds based on that,” she said.