2016-08-25 / Front Page

Unit 91 goes out for bid

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO – The city council approved a request for proposals to be issued for purchase and development of Unit 91, a 30,000-square-foot property that the city acquired in January due to a tax foreclosure.

The property makes up approximately 25 percent of the property that is part of Island Terrace Owners Association, a condominium association. Since the city acquired the property, it has spent more than $70,000 to bring it up to code, including repairing an elevator and improving a stairway.

“We want to move this along. There is a little bit of a cost factor that we want to recoup, but you know we have to do this properly,” said Saco Mayor Roland Michaud. “This is a project that has been stumbling up and down for 30 years. The city has an interest in making sure that this is the best we can do. It is costing us money, so we want to do it efficiently.”

Economic Development Director William Mann said the city has been meeting with other developers of Saco Island properties that have interest on the island, to make sure any outstanding issues with easements are resolved. At a city council meeting on Aug. 1, Sam Zaitlin, who is part of development group Saco East, raised issues about easements and access to the 40 spaces of parking that accompany Unit 91.

“It seems pretty clear that Unit 91 includes the parking under the building,” Michaud said. “Then the real question is how do you get from Main Street to the parking lot? Those are the questions that are out there. Do you have easements? What LLC has it? How do you get there? (The city attorney) felt we had access to the lot.”

Michaud said 30 years ago, the entire island had one owner, but over the years, the property has been divided into smaller lots.

“We try to follow the easements and right-of-ways,” he said. “When you talk about things like common elements, it gets pretty confusing.”

Mann said easements are more cut and dry than have been implied.

“All of the buildings on the north side were once owned by one individual, and then the condo association and then a number of owners purchased and sold, so there are a variety of easements back and forth between various parties,” he said. “It’s all well documented. While it’s got more complexity than it would have with a single lot with a single building and a single owner, I don’t think it’s unclear. From my perspective, it’s all very clear.”

Mann said the city never desired or intended to acquire the property and that it was transferred to the city under operation of law when Island Terrace Owners Association, who had been given the property by Unit 91 LLC in lieu of association fees owed, defaulted on unpaid taxes and informed the city it could not pay the taxes. Mann said holding the property has come at an expense, but it also gives the city an opportunity to choose what kind of development project occurs on the property.

The property is assessed by the city at a value of $762,200 – $611,900 for the land and $150,300 for the land. As part of the Island Terrace Owners Association, any new owners would also have to pay the association approximately $6,000 a month in association fees.

“We think it’s a really good piece of property in a good location, and (should be) in the hands of a team or combination of folks that have the financial and technical capacity to have it be re-formed for its highest and best use, whether residential or commercial,” Mann said. “It’s appropriate to put it back in the hands of the private marketplace. Given the central location downtown, it’s not something we just wanted to put out to bid like an excess piece of land.”

Mann said he believes any outstanding questions about easements related to the property are “very close” to being resolved.

“There are always a variety of issues related to any real estate development when you have multiple parties involved,” he said. “There are at least four or five different developers with projects ongoing on Saco Island. There’s more complexity than with one property owner.”

Michaud said the issue of easements will have to finally be resolved when the city has all its applications from the request for proposal in hand, but he is confident in the city’s legal interpretation that the owners of Unit 91 and the 40 parking spaces that accompany it will have access to get there.

“I trust the city solicitor,” Michaud said. “You’d have to helicopter in and that doesn’t make any sense at all. Any judge would say that’s not rational, but I think we want to work with everyone and don’t want to bang through the door. We’ll work together as a team, recognize the varied interests and work together.”

Michaud said unlike Biddeford, the availability of parking downtown has not been a major issue for residents, but whether more parking will need to be created downtown within the next 50 years will probably depend on what the primary mode of transportation is in the future.

“What will Biddeford-Saco look like 50 years from now?” Michaud asked. “Now, if cars are still the primary source of transportation, then I imagine we will need to follow Portsmouth’s lead and get a parking garage. If vehicles become the secondary method, then maybe not.”

“I think everybody’s working to move forward so they each individually have the most positive outcome in terms of their investments,” Mann said. “It makes sense that if everyone is trying to be a good neighbor, if we all take an approach what will be in my interest and what will be in my neighbor’s interest is in my interest, because if they’re doing well, it reflects well on my property. We need to move forward for the most positive outcome.”

Potential applicants interested in purchasing and developing the property will have until Sept. 30 to submit a proposal. The council has targeted Nov. 7 as the target date to consider a recommendation for sale of the property.

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