2016-09-22 / Front Page

Plan for Saco Island marina in works

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO – A local developer is proposing to build up to 30 condominium units and a marina with up to 70 slips on the east side of Saco Island. Sam Zaitlin, director of development for Saco Island LLC, confirmed that developer Bernie Saulnier Jr. has been given first option to develop a portion of the island.

Saulnier is the owner of Saulnier Development, which manages projects in Massachusetts and Maine, including Horton Meadows and 24 North Avenue, both in Saco and both under construction. The company also developed Sandy Meadows, The Legends and Summer Winds Cottages in Old Orchard Beach.

“They have an option that was given to them four months ago and they’re pursuing development,” Zaitlin said. “They have an option to purchase. They’ve paid honest money down and we have every reason to believe they’ve moved ahead with a permitting process. We will know more next month because they have deadlines.”

Zaitlin declined to say how much money the developer had put down for the option or for how much the property would be sold.

At last week’s Coastal Waters Commission meeting, Chairman James Katz said City Clerk Michele Hughes forwarded an email about the development proposal, which calls for 30 condominium units in a contemporary style with two parking spaces for each condo, one of which would be in a garage and the other in an open space. Katz said the units would sell for a maximum of $500,000 and would not include affordable housing.

“The holdup is that he’s trying to get (Central Maine Power) to allow them to have 68 spaces in a lot,” Katz said.

Ward 5 City Councilor Alan Minthorn sent an email to councilors opposing the plan.

“It’s my feeling that the highest and best use of Saco Island East would be something that would provide more public access and a smaller commercial footprint than an upscale 30-unit condo, which would pretty much exclude residents from having access to what really should be a pinnacle of our community,” Minthorn said in a phone interview. “Especially at the entrance to our community from Biddeford.”

Zaitlin said the proposal, which has not yet been presented to the planning board, is similar to a proposal presented for the same site in 2007, which the planning board passed preliminary approvals for at that time. Zaitlin said the main difference is that the original proposal called for town houses whereas Saulnier’s proposal will likely be condo units instead.

However, Zaitlin also said he hasn’t seen specific plans that Saulnier intends to present to the planning board.

The 5.84-acre property was sold by Cutts Island Group to Saco Island East LLC on Oct. 1, 2007, and is currently assessed by the city at $379,000. The original development plans were submitted in 2007 to the planning board on behalf of SI Development LLC by Buck Consulting Group LLC, which is now called Cordjia Capital Projects Group.

Gary Marston, member of the Coastal Waters Commission, a former member of the planning board, said he would like the commission and planning board to meet and conduct a site visit before the board reviews any development plans.

Zaitlin said the option for Saulnier to purchase the property comes with conditions, such as agreeing to pursue all the permitting requirements with various city and state agencies.

“He has to do certain things,” Zaitlin said. “It’s not as if he pays X dollars and does whatever.”

Minthorn said he wants to see more disclosures about development projects in the future, including more explicitly identifying property owners. Minthorn said Zaitlin and Kevin Mattson, a developer also involved with development projects on Saco Island, “are not landlords of the year by any stretch of the imagination.”

Minthorn referenced Unit 91 LLC, a development project of Saco Island West that Zaitlin and Mattson were involved with, which was the subject of lawsuits by Island Terrace Owners Association for years. Unit 91, which is part of the Island Terrace Owners Association, was transferred to the association by Unit 91 LLC in December of last year in lieu of more than $300,000 in unpaid fees owed to the association. The association, however, could not afford the unpaid taxes that accompanied the property, and the unit eventually came under city ownership. The city is now requesting proposals for development of the site.

Minthorn said the similarity between the new proposal for Saco Island East and the one submitted several years ago causes him to question whether the site would really be sold to a new owner, or simply masked in another corporation.

“I’m pushing for (financial disclosure) to be further adopted for landlords as well, because of some of the recent things that have happened where we can’t identify who the owner of a building is because they’re buried in corporations,” Minthorn said. “Whether it’s Mattson or somebody else, whether they’re buried under two, three, four or five or 10 corporations, and all the other associated easement problems and right-of-way issues, the last thing I want to do is have these guys have more properties buried in more corporations.”

Minthorn said the city should have foreclosed on the Saco Island East property earlier this year when it had the chance.

“The city of Saco had an opportunity to foreclose on that property in January and we did not, and I feel that was a mistake,” he said.

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