Shown here is a draft rendering by Finegold Alexander Architects of the 115,000-square-foot York Judicial Center, slated to be built on Elm Street in Biddeford. A contract zone is contemplated for the project. Court officials say ground is expected to be broken in the spring. Courtesy Image

BIDDEFORD — The York Judicial Center project that will consolidate all four court buildings in York County into one location is in the Biddeford Planning Board review process.

Currently, said Biddeford City Planner Greg Tansley, the Planning Board is conducting a site review, and examining language to be included in a proposed contract zone.

A contract zone is required for the site — the so-called former Pate property at 511 to 515 Elm Street — because the building, at 68 feet, is taller than the 35-feet maximum allowed by zoning in the area.

The Biddeford City Council approved the contract zone in concept in September, and once the Planning Board has completed its work on the contract, the council will take up the proposal and cast a formal vote for or against.

But first comes a public hearing at the Planning Board. As of late December, that had not been scheduled, said Tansley.

Maine Court Administrator James Glessner last week said the project remains on track for a spring groundbreaking, with a view to completion of the 115,000-square-foot structure in 2022.

Not everyone is on board with the proposal. Several abutters penned emails to city planners, outlining their objections, which range from the height of the structure to whether the building is consistent with permitted uses in the zone.

Sterling Roop, who lives nearby, said he believes the property is the wrong location for such a development and that the Maine Judicial Branch has not done sufficient due diligence in the selection of the property, and its impact on city residents, among other factors.

Among his concerns is that the large parking lot is inconsistent in the residential area, the building materials do not match the type and color of abutting neighbors, the height of the structure, and more.

The Maine Legislature passed a bill sponsored by former Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, in 2016 that budgeted $65 million for the new York County Courthouse.

With the court consolidation, the York County Superior Court, which sits at the county-owned York County Court House in Alfred, and the district courts in state-owned facilities in Biddeford, Springvale and York, will close and their functions will all move to the York Judicial Center. Other Maine jurisdictions have already consolidated; the goal of these efforts is increasing efficiency.

A court site selection commission comprised of legislators, judges, law enforcement, attorneys and others chose the Elm Street (U.S. Route 1) site as the location for the new courthouse in November 2016.

The Biddeford City Council voted unanimously to sell the parcels of land, located at 511 to 515 Elm St., and an additional adjacent parcel at 384 Hill St., to the Maine Governmental Facility Authority for $810,000 in January 2017.

Roop said he realizes the City Council will likely vote in the affirmative on the contract zone. If the Planning Board were to approve the 68-foot height, which includes a top structure that holds the mechanical system, Roop suggested that structure be located on the Elm Street side, to reduce noise levels.

The large parking lot will produce serious storm water and run off, he said, particularity on the north side of the property which already experiences flooding and storm water run off issues.

George Vassill, who lives nearby the property, had similar concerns. He wrote that he believes there should be residential noise and light limits on the structure and parking area, and that the state should be required to provide complete fencing and shrub fencing for the entire parking lot to ensure safety and limit access from the parking lot area into the surrounding neighborhoods. He asked that the state mitigate any impact to already low water pressure in the neighborhood, among other suggestions.

“Traffic is going to be a problem,” neighbor William Denyer wrote to city planning officials. “Currently it is backed up from 3 to 5 in the afternoon. With 100-plus cars, this will become a nightmare without traffic lights … in short, many issues need to be answered before moving forward.”

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