KENNEBUNK – Nearly 50 years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Kennebunk River and dumped the spoils here on a stretch of marshland between Kennebunk Beach and the tidal reaches of Lake Brook.

In the 1970s, developers decided to build a subdivision. Seabreeze Acres was born, with modest ranches and colonials rising on the fill.

Some of those houses now are settling into the marsh, leading residents to call the neighborhood “Sinking Acres.”

The funky geology hasn’t deterred a new generation of developers, who are benefiting from modern engineering.

They have begun transforming the neighborhood into an enclave of $1 million-plus “Kennebunk Beach summer homes” that mimic the shingle style of the grand vacation cottages of the New England coast. Many of the deals are cash sales to out-of-state residents with strong attachments to Kennebunk Beach.

The home-building market continues to struggle in much of Maine, but not here. All real estate is local, as agents say, and just out of sight from one of the state’s most desirable tourist destinations, builders are busy creating a high-end, contemporary vision of the Maine summer home.

Many of the exteriors feature gray shingles with white trim.

“Everybody’s into the Kennebunk shingle style,” says Diane Doyle, owner of Doyle Enterprises in Saco.

Doyle is among the most active developers here. She has done work on 10 homes, ranging from extensive renovations to new houses on empty lots. Doyle also has torn down houses that would have been viewed with envy in many Maine suburbs.

Gone is the vinyl-sided ranch a block from the ocean. The house in its place resembles a Bar Harbor mansion.

The perfectly adequate split level across from the salt marsh has given way to a home that could be in a design magazine.

The shingled house at the corner of Bayberry Avenue and Surf Lane, with a balcony facing the ocean, stands on a quarter-acre of wetlands. Neighbors thought the lot was unbuildable, but the land alone sold for $500,000.

Just up the street is a blue-shingled cottage, with gambrel roof lines and a porch and garage faced in stone. A handsome colonial once stood here, but it, too, was sinking into the marsh.

The home’s owner is typical: a Boston lawyer, with a boat nearby. His wife stays for the summer; the kids are enrolled in the Kennebunk Beach Improvement Association, the historic, waterfront recreation facility on Beach Avenue.

“This is his grounding place,” Doyle says of the owner.

Some year-round residents are taking advantage of the transition.

Lisa and Wesley Mills raised their children in a 1970s garrison at the edge of the marsh. Doyle demolished the house last year and built the couple a shingle-style cottage. Patio doors face marshland, and a second-story balcony provides a peek at the ocean.

“Diane gave us a lot of water views we didn’t have,” Lisa Mills says.

The home has delightful, beachy accents — the upstairs newel post is carved to resemble a lighthouse; a bathroom floor is set in beachstones.

Before the construction, Mills showed her house plans to neighbors, a mix of summer people and year-rounders. Most agreed it would be a step forward, she says. “They see it as improving the whole neighborhood.”

Improvements here don’t come cheaply.

“People are spending $30,000 to $100,000 extra to build a foundation down there that doesn’t move,” says Paul Demers, Kennebunk’s code enforcement officer.

Most builders hire engineers to find solutions that will satisfy the town, state environmental regulators and clients, Demers says.

He watched one engineer supervise a project where 30 stone columns were compacted, forming foundation pilings, and tested with a crane for stability.

Beyond having squishy soil, much of the area is in a resource protection zone.

To avoid forming impermeable surfaces that would channel stormwater at the Mills’ home, Doyle left grass strips on the driveway and created a lawn patio.

For all the construction challenges, the neighborhood has a growing appeal, says Geoff Bowley of Kennebunk-based Bowley Builders.

Bowley grew up in town and has seen the area evolve. He says it’s now drawing summer people who don’t want to be right on the beach because of the traffic and the risk of storm damage.

Bowley, who built a cottage-syle home on Bayberry Avenue that was featured last year in Maine Home & Design magazine, says he expects the entire neighborhood to be transformed eventually into Kennebunk Beach luxury homes.

“It’s a minute walk, and you’re right on the beach,” he says.

The neighborhood is just a few minutes from the restaurants and shops in the Lower Village and Kennebunkport’s Dock Square. Country clubs and marinas are just as near.

“It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” says Heidi Maynard of Pack Maynard & Associates Real Estate. “You can smell and feel the ocean, but there’s a little more privacy.”

Maynard is listing a 2,800-square-foot home that Doyle is building on two-tenths of an acre of previously swampy woods by the brook.

The home has four bedrooms, three baths, a second-floor balcony — and the coveted cottage look.

At a time when southern Maine’s real estate market is glutted with unsold homes, the project is a testament to the confidence that builders have here. The house is going up on speculation, with an unfinished interior to be fitted out for the buyer.

The asking price is $1.1 million.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]