2017-07-27 / Neighbors

Traffic, noise among concerns about Saco Island development

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Factory Island may be home to new condos, a hotel, restaurant, park and marinas if developers can balance residents’ concerns with the project’s financial viability. Six acres of land east of Main Street on Factory Island are being considered for two multi-level residential condominiums housing at least 85 units, a boutique hotel with up to 60 units, a pool and recreation center, restaurant, community park and marina facilities. Saulnier Development held a public meeting Monday, July 18 at Thornton Academy to answer questions from the public. About 40 residents attended.

A large-scale plan to develop a mill complex on Saco Island was also attempted in 2006. Saco City Council voted to implement a $30 million tax increment financing district for the project, the largest real estate TIF in Maine’s history at the time. The project was hampered in part by the 2008 recession.

Bernie Saulnier of Saulnier Development, with offices in Maine and Massachusetts, said his team will handle the residential piece while other developers oversee the marina, hotel and open space projects. He said funding for the project would in part come from a 100-year-old company able to provide $60 million without help from a bank. Saulnier would not disclose the name of the company.

“We have quite a few team members and a lot of things we still have to complete,” Saulnier said.

Brandon Hussey, director of sales and marketing at the Press Hotel, said his company is looking at building a hotel within this development project but work is still in the planning stages. Hussey said the Amtrak station and water access make Factory Island a unique destination within southern Maine.

“We are still figuring out if the financial aspect is a viable option,” he said.

The proposed hotel would be separate from the restaurant but likely serve breakfast and lunch. Hussey said it would probably have space available to rent for weddings and corporate events.

Saco Economic Development Director Bill Mann asked why the restaurant and hotel couldn’t be housed under the same roof to save space.

Saulnier said 2.5 acres of land is reserved for green space open to the public and hopefully connected to the RiverWalk. The exact layout of buildings is far from final, Saulnier said. He said kayak rentals, water taxis and river cruises are being considered as well.

Stephen Bushey, senior project manager at Stantec in Scarborough, said the bigger goal of the evening was to represent the general building density on the east side of the island and the mix-use concept being proposed. Stantec is an international engineering consulting firm with more than 22,000 employees and 400 North American office locations. Bushey felt the marina concept fit in well with the community’s longterm goals.

“Money is being spent to dredge the river, we ought to use the space,” he said.

Bushey expected the permitting process to begin during late summer and hopefully have financing together by early 2018 with construction beginning in the spring.

John Dustin, Saco resident and Saco Yacht Club member, said he likes the idea of the marina but wants to know how far they are going to stick out into the river. He said the yacht club already has quite a few moorings in the vicinity and there is a sand bar in the middle of the river.

Saco resident Lynn Maravell read from a prepared statement about her concerns over traffic and air pollution along Main Street. She moved from Biddeford to Saco in 1993 and said her property was surrounded by large trees with little to no traffic noise. She said today the trees have been replaced by asphalt and she feels like she is standing next to the turnpike when she’s in her backyard.

“I’ve watched property values be destroyed by traffic. This will make it worse,” Maravell said.

She said Saco residents want the tax base from the project but not the environmental impact it will bring. She suggested rejecting the project unless developers plant trees and shrubs to help buffer the noise in accordance with zoning laws.

“If developers say they’ll plant more trees I’m on board, but I’m not on board with 200 more cars,” she said.

Bette Brunswick, board president of Saco Main Street and Saco Citizens for Sensible Government member, said she’s been informed of the project’s incremental progress and welcomes the development. Saco Main Street is a nonprofit volunteer organization focused on economic development. Saco Citizens for Sensible Government is a committee that promotes civic participation in local government. Brunswick wants to see green space made available to the community.

“The waterfront is such a special part of Saco,” she said. “It’s not utilized well right now and I’d like to see this development help that along.”

Brunswick is concerned about parking in an area already plagued by high congestion.

“I’m hoping the Amtrak station can become a commuter hub and ultimately alleviate some commuter traffic,” she said.

Brunswick said she was impressed with the developer’s forethought on the project. She said Saco Main Street is always looking for more people who want to get involved with the community.

“We look at projects like this as a resource for that,” Brunswick said.

Ward 4 Councilor Kevin Roche felt after the presentation that developers listened to residents’ concerns. He said developers could have simply made a transaction without holding public forums.

“As a city, we want to be a partner to go through, not a judge and jury,” Roche said.

Roche is concerned about traffic but feels confident after renovations to mill four. Chinburg Properties, a New Hampshire based construction company, welcomed its first new residents into the mill Saturday, April 1 after an estimated $18 million renovation to the building. Roche is also concerned about whether developers will be good financial partners. Roche said the council would be willing to consider helping with funding as long as developers remain invested in the property.

“It won’t pass if they don’t have financing,” he said.

Roche understands Maravell’s concerns and said he was on the same team. Roche said a rising tide lifts all boats and improvements made to the island will be felt downtown. He sympathizes with concerns over traffic noise.

“We’re trying to increase the property value and decrease the mil rate,” Roche said. “In case she moves, hopefully she’ll have a viable property to sell.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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