2017-08-31 / Front Page

Courthouse: Residents get chance at questions

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Residents along the U.S. Route 1 corridor between the Arundel town line and Five- Points have many questions over the construction of a new $65 million courthouse, planned to be built at 511- 515 Elm Street, but few answers.

City officials sent 270 notices to property owners whose homes abut the proposed York County Courthouse, which would replace aging facilities in Biddeford, Springvale, York and Alfred. About 10 members of the public gathered last week to express concerns and decide what information they want from the state.

The city purchased three parcels on 511-515 Elm St. for $700,000 in December 2014. The city sold two parcels in March to Maine Governmental Facilities Authority for $810,000. Though more public meetings are likely to occur in the future, there are none scheduled.

Director of Economic and Community Development Daniel Stevenson doesn’t know if the courthouse will be one building or a conglomeration and doesn’t expect construction to begin until 2019 at the earliest.

Stevenson asked meeting attendees what challenges they foresee in the future, as well as what direction they would like to see the area head in. Stevenson and city staff are examining how the new courthouse will affect the surrounding community and not just the area directly next to it.

“We noticed as we were looking that the zoning has not been addressed for 40 years as far as we can tell,” he said. “All kinds of different zones are happening throughout the entire corridor.”

City Planner Greg Tansley considers two factors when discussing planning along Route 1: land use and transportation. The two can affect each other, as certain businesses become high traffic generators and change the capacity of the roadway. Tansley said the area that surrounds the future courthouse is a mix of commercial, industrial and residential zoning.

“There are some areas where a property’s zoning is split half business, half residential,” he said. “There are also some areas with non-conforming uses.”

Traffic was among the top issues raised at the meeting, with residents wondering how the roads will handle the increase in activity. Rick Rossignol, who lives on Birchwood Lane, built his house 10 feet from his property line, assuming another house may be built in the future next to him. He didn’t expect a commercial building next to his home.

“I’d like to be able to buy a buffer zone against my property,” he said.

Buffer zones are spaces between resident’s property lines and the site of the courthouse. They wouldn’t require rezoning according to Stevenson, and are a possibility.

Lauren Giddings, who lives on Lindale Avenue with her husband and young children, said she’s lived in the neighborhood for seven years and is unhappy about courthouse development. She doesn’t want to see the courthouse from her windows, which she expects she’ll be able to. Traffic on Route 1 has increased since she purchased her home there, she said. Giddings almost didn’t recognize the turn onto her driveway because so many trees had been taken down because of road construction.

“I’d hate to see further development here. There are other commercial zones in the city ripe for development where people have already left,” she said.

Giddings asked that developers of the courthouse consider planting trees in and around the property. She also felt crosswalks along Elm Street were not well marked and sidewalks are rarely plowed in winter.

Richard Pate, who sold the property where the courthouse will be built, said he didn’t know the city would then decide to sell it to the state. Pate isn’t optimistic about the future of traffic control in the area because there’s no room to widen the road beyond the three lanes it is now. He said he narrowly avoided a head on collision in the middle turning lane while waiting to turn into his residence on Waco Drive.

“I don’t know how to alleviate the turning issue we’re now experiencing without the volume this (courthouse) is going to make,” he said.

Rossignol felt the city had rushed the sale of the property amidst residents’ concern over the change.

Stevenson wanted to meet with planners from the state prior to the public meeting but was not able to do so. He said he would provide more information as soon as he had something to share.

Tansley believes an appropriate balance of mix-use buildings can be achieved in the area. As far as he is concerned the courthouse is going to happen and have about 60 to 70 new employees. This in turn could bring new restaurants, retail and office space to the area that will hopefully benefit residents.

“We don’t like to see people displaced, that’s not what we want,” he said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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