2016-10-06 / Front Page

Council rejects Park North change

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

SACO – The city council rejected an amendment to a contract zone agreement offered by Park North Development, LLC, which would have allowed it to change the development plan on part of its property in the Cascade area that abuts Route 1.

Park North was represented by developer R. Elliott Chamberlain. The vote on Monday night, Oct. 3, was 4-3 against, with councilors David Precourt, Roger Gay, Kevin Roche, and Nathan Johnston voting against the agreement.

Councilors Precourt and Gay opposed the agreement with concerns about specific provisions.

“We’re changing from a mixed-use to a residential, but we’re not going to residential standards,” Precourt said. “I don’t buy it.”

Gay said that he would prefer an agreement that more clearly accounted for how several fee balances would be paid to the city, and that made more specific provisions about the development of walking trails in the development area. Mayor Roland Michaud had raised those issues before the vote. “I would like to see the suggestion that the mayor suggested,” Gay said.

Councilors Roche and Johnston objected on a more abstract basis, appealing to the need for commercial development. According to Chamberlain, Park North already has the approval to develop the land under the currently existing contract zone agreement, which was approved at the end of 2005 and has had only minor amendments in the intervening 11 years. That agreement allows residential development so long as part of the first floor of the building is commercial use. The change that Park North is requesting is to build buildings that are purely residential on the third of the land farthest from Route 1, but reserving the 600 feet nearest to Route 1 for commercial use.

“This started over 10 years ago, and it was approved at that time on the basis of commercial growth,” Johnston said. “So far I’ve seen nothing but residential growth.”

“I’d like to see more of that commercial growth first,” Johnston added.

Roche’s reasoning was in line with Johnston’s.

“This is a bigger issue than Mr. Chamberlain,” Roche said. “This is about what the city is working on. The city has at least told that we’re trying to become a bedroom community. And this is a residential push.”

Roche urged that, before approving the kind of residential development that Park North was working on, the city should wait for indications that commercial growth would follow residential development.

“We had a contentious vote on Mill 4, apartments with commercial on the first floor,” Roche said. “I’d like to see how that works out.”

Chamberlain disagreed with the notion that commercial growth could be pushed without prior residential development.

“I can’t pull those (commercial) users out of my hat,” Chamberlain said. “You go after the market that exists. It’s got nothing with being cool or being easy. The market exists for the residential.”

Chamberlain also pointed out that Park North is currently talking to at least one commercial user, an up-scale fitness center. Chamberlain told the Courier later that there is also a second commercial user in the works.

Johnston continued to press Chamberlain on commercial growth, urging that residential development was unnecessary.

“I think there’s plenty of population between Scarborough, Saco and Biddeford to service whatever commercial units you put out there,” Johnston said.

Chamberlain said geography is an important factor.

“I’m four miles from two town centers,” Chamberlain told the Courier. “I’m stuck between two (interstate) exits.”

Chamberlain acquired the property between 2003 and 2005. After the initial stages of development in 2005, the national housing market slowed, and Park North’s development effort was affected.

“You couldn’t give land away,” Chamberlain said during an interview the day after the meeting.

At the meeting, Johnston offered little sympathy for that consideration.

“Don’t give me ‘the recession,’” said Johnston, “because that affected everybody.”

In response, Chamberlain emphasized that the recession was in addition to other difficulties Park North experienced during that time.

At the same time as the recession, Chamberlain told the Courier, Park North spent between $6 and $8 million dollars on infrastructure to support an expected commercial development. A local financial institution, Town & Country, said Chamberlain, was going to build its headquarters, and so required the installation of a pump station. When that plan fell through, Park North was left with millions of dollars in debt.

Between the years since that time and 2016, said Chamberlain, the market has been too slow to develop.

“We’re just now starting to see interest,” Chamberlain said.

Return to top