2017-10-12 / News

Proposed Factory Island development topic of scrutiny

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Developers who plan to build a six-acre multi-use facility on the east side of Factory Island must adhere to strict guidelines from the Saco River Corridor Commission if they want their vision to become a reality.

Commission members, developers and city officials will conduct a site walk Saturday, Oct. 14 to familiarize everyone involved. Led by Bernie Saulnier, of Saulnier Development, the project would consist of 85 housing units, a boutique hotel, recreation center, community park and marina facilities.

Dennis Finn, executive director for the Saco River Corridor Commission, has worked with members of Saulnier’s team before and is comfortable with their past performance.

“These folks have been to us before in different forms,” he said. “They know what the standards are. I think they fully expect to do their best to comply. That’s their responsibility.”

The Saco River Corridor Commission was established under the Saco River Corridor Act by the Maine State Legislature in 1973. The commission, in part, regulates land use development of areas within 500 to 1,000 feet of the Saco River and other connected waterbeds. Representatives from 20 municipalities that border these bodies of water comprise the commission.

Finn said the first 100 feet of land closest to the water are most important to provide a buffer between development and the river. Native plants and vegetation could be used to create a “rain garden,” a way to filter storm water runoff naturally before it flows into the river. Similarly, nothing can be built within the first 100 feet that would block scenic views of the river.

“The act is pretty explicit on those things, the performance standards. That’s going to be the biggest concern,” Finn said.

The commission can halt development if standards are not met, but Finn doesn’t expect that to happen.

Finn met with Economic Development Director Bill Mann and Stantec Project Manager Steve Bushey at the end of September to discuss the preliminary details of the application process.

“I think this development team and the city, in my view, are really interested in having this done right. I think I saw that at the meeting. It made me feel encouraged. When the project comes in it will be that much easier to review,” Finn said.

Developers hope to start the permitting process by the end of the year and begin construction in the spring. Bushey said investigations into soil conditions at the site as well as traffic movement studies are still being conducted.

“We’re moving forward slowly but deliberately on design and information gathering,” he said. “We will make an effort to try and be as open and communicative with people as possible.”

Bushey was provided with examples of rain gardens by the project’s landscape architect, Patrick Carroll, and plans to use them in the design.

No official designs or applications for the site have been made. Developers will also consider extending the RiverWalk trail from Run of the Mill, along the east side of the island and connect it to a potential bridge to the mainland below Cataract Dam.

“We’re still waiting on the surveys,” Bushey said. “We’re really just starting to scratch the surface in terms of production design.”

When developers submit applications to the city, Finn and Saco River Corridor Commission members will review it together to make sure the standards for construction are met. The sea wall around the east edge of the island also needs repair.

Finn said large sections of the timber and granite that keep the island from crumbling into the river should be replaced. Work on the sea wall would require input from the state as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.

The island has been home to many industrial uses for generations and Finn hopes the new development can restore some of what may have been lost.

“The site can use a lot of help to bring it back and make it part of the city,” he said. “I think it will look like a gateway coming into a vibrant urban area on the river. It’s a good thing for the city in my opinion, not speaking for the commission.”

Finn will attend Saturday’s site walk on behalf of the commission to aid in the ultimate decision-making process.

“I will review the project as part of a team,” he said. “When we get something, we will hold it to a set of known and consistent standards. It should be no surprise for them or for us. Hopefully, if it meets standards, the project will move forward and be a great asset to the city.” Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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