2018-10-04 / Front Page

Horton Woods – is now the right time to develop?

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

SACO – A subdivision for those 55-plus has been 13 years in the making, the vision of the Horton family for their large plot of land on Buxton Road, but some worry that a plan created in 2005 may not be in the best interest of Saco’s future.

The Horton Woods project consists of a 27-unit clustered subdivision over a 49- acre parcel on Buxton Road. The project was advanced from the planning board to the council with a positive recommendation on May 15.

During a Monday, Oct. 1 public hearing for a contract zone for the project, many residents came forward to speak in favor of it. However, some wonder if the project, while it may have been a smart fit for Saco, proposed and approved in 2005 and 2010, may not be right for the current climate. Both instances of approved contract zones for the subdivision never came to fruition due to issues with previous developers. The second reading of the contract zone was approved unanimously Monday.

Approving the contract zone would require the city to make exceptions from the zoning ordinance, including modifications to frontage, density, setback and lot size standards. Also, a clustered subdivision such as this traditionally is required to connect to both public sewer and water. However, because of the subdivisions location – 3 miles from public sewer and 2 from water – the requirement would also have to be amended.

During the Oct. 1 meeting, Horton Woods developer Diane Doyle spoke in favor of the project, citing improvements that will be made to the trail systems in Horton Woods. She also referenced communications from the times when the original contract and conservation zones were initially proposed, specifically the hope that the property would be preserved exactly as the Hortons envisioned.

“You have the opportunity to fulfill the vision of the Hortons,” Doyle said. “A quality development built by a respected and successful local developer.”

Jean Horton spoke of her and her late husband’s vision for the property, including what he didn’t want. At times, Horton became tearful, and implored the council to move forward with the project.

“He looked out over our property and looked back at me and said, ‘I don’t want this all to be sold to some Philadelphia developer so it can be turned into some Levittown development,’” Horton said. “We are asking the city to do no more than to stand by their promise.”

Levittown refers to a series of subdivisions built after World War II by developer William Levitt that become the hallmark of the American suburb, with uniform houses spaced close together as to fit as many unit as possible into one area.

While the Saco Bay Trails committee, by its own policy, will not take a stance on any project, Andrew Holbrook, president of Saco Bay Trails, was at the meeting to speak not in favor of the project, but in favor of the opportunity to expand the trail system in the woods, as 33.3 acres of the property is slated for open space that can be used by the public.

There has been concern over whether the time is now for such a project in Saco. Mentioned during the Sept. 28 Route 112 community meeting, existing is a development boom that has increased traffic along Route 112. Adding another clustered subdivision to Buxton Road would only increase congestion, especially when paired with the addition of The Ecology School, which is expected to be completed and open for business in the coming year.

During the first reading of the contract zone Sept. 17, Ward 7 Councilor Nathan Johnston spoke at length about the project, expressing disappointment with the planning board that it would make it as far as the council. He said while he thought it could be a great project, he didn’t believe Buxton Road is the right place for it. Johnston referenced the city’s comprehensive plan, which states that subdivisions should be built near existing amenities, going on to say that when he drove out to the property – according to his car’s odometer –the proposed development would be located 4 miles from the Department of Power and Water, 4.8 miles from the turnpike, 5 miles from the fire department, and 6.2 miles from the police department, with a 15-minute drive from downtown to the development, without traffic.

Johnston also took issue with the continued reference to contract zone approvals of the past as an argument for the subdivision moving forward now.

“My point is, what made sense, or may have made sense to the council in 2005, I don’t think it’s applicable. It wasn’t applicable in 2014, and I was on the council and had some serious issues with it then,” Johnston said. “We are tasked as a council with looking at the future of our community.”

Saco resident Inga Browne said she has the utmost respect for both Doyle and the Horton family, but is against the project. Browne detailed the principles of Smart Growth Planning and the importance of applying them to Saco, citing the surge of development in Saco with what she feels has been a lack of foresight into its long term effects.

While the Horton Woods project will move forward for a final reading, Ward 1 Councilor Marshall Archer requested that prior to the meeting, more information be provided about the cost of adding services, tax revenue, how the project could help or hinder the elderly community and effect the “already stressed” municipal budget.

A final reading for the project and possible approval of the contract zone is scheduled for the Monday, Oct. 15.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.


To find out more about the Horton Woods project and to view the proposed contract zone agreement, visit the City Council agenda page for Oct.1 at sacomaine.org.

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