BIDDEFORD — The City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday in favor of tabling a zoning change, which would allow a housing project to move forward, until the next meeting on Aug. 4.

Councilors made the decision in order to obtain more information about how the project, which would add 54 units of senior housing to a seven-acre property on the corner of Granite and West streets, would affect the neighborhood. Residents of the area are largely opposed to the project, arguing it would be out of place amid the single-family homes there and would increase traffic at the already dangerous intersection.

“That development does not belong here,” Theresa Roy, who lives at 204 Granite St., told councilors before the vote.

Roy said she and her husband have in the last 20 years witnessed several accidents at the intersection, which she claims is nearly impossible to cross on foot. Bringing 54 units of housing to the area would only make things worse, she contended.

“If you do pass this, I would suggest that you may want to consider offering bright orange vests with reflective lights free to each person who buys a condo because it might come in handy when trying to cross that death trap,” said Roy. “How can you play down such a colossal problem? The answer is you can’t. This is such a bad idea I’m surprised it got even this far.”

The property, which is known to some as “the horse farm,” currently houses a barn, which according to Roy was built in the 1800s, and a house, which Roy said was built in the 1700s. At a Planning Board meeting earlier this month she said the project would destroy “a beautiful piece of property.”

James Bernard, a developer who just over three years ago purchased the property in question, admitted at Tuesday’s meeting that he and his wife were first drawn to it for its rural charm. But now, he said he has no other option but to develop it, and if he doesn’t do it, somebody else will.

“The reality is, the land is going to get developed whether it’s us or somebody else,” said Bernard, who also developed Eastwoods Retirement Community on Hill Street.

But Councilors Bob Mills and Stephen St. Cyr said they would rather see single-family homes built on the property, which is currently part of the R1A, or single family residential, zone. The zoning change, which councilors chose to table, would make the property part of the R2, or multi-family, zone and allow the project to move forward.

“I would rather see single-family homes there,” said St. Cyr.

“I too would support the residential home concept because I have concerns about the amount of traffic,” added Mills.

But City Planner Greg Tansley told councilors that an Institute of Transportation Engineers study showed that 54 units of senior housing (for people who are 55 or older) would generate less traffic than 20 single-family homes. Bernard considered adding single-family homes to the property in the past but said he decided against it because the homes would not be affordable to most people in the area.

Additionally, Tansley said he supports the senior housing project because the property is already connected to city water and sewer lines and is located in a designated growth area.

Before deciding to take more time to consider the zoning change, the council as a whole raised some concerns over the project, such as the fact that a zoning change would open the door to other developers if Bernard’s plans were to fall through. Other concerns included how much of an impact the project would actually have on traffic; the information Tansley presented came from a nationwide study, and some councilors expressed a desire to conduct one on the local level.

Tansley said officials could also pursue rezoning the area through a contract zone ”“ rather than an overall zoning change ”“ and that would give the city more control over the project.

“That allows the Planning Board to get directly involved,” City Manager John Bubier explained.

Councilor Marc Lessard made the motion to table the zoning change until the next meeting so the council could have more time to learn about contract zoning and other things related to the project. St. Cyr, Mills and Councilor Robert Quattrone opposed the motion.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]



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