BIDDEFORD — The Planning Board on May 20 approved a contract zone for the New York Judicial Center on Elm Street. The next step is a vote by the Biddeford City Council.

The council in September approved the concept of a contract zone for the property, which it had earlier sold to the state for the consolidated courthouse project.

A contract was necessary for the $65 million project because the property chosen has a height restriction of 35 feet. The contract will allow the State of Maine to build the new structure as high as 68.5 feet.

If the council approves the contract, the state’s York County Superior Court, which currently sits at the county-owned  courthouse in Alfred, and the three district courts in state-owned facilities in Biddeford, Springvale and York, would close and move to the York Judicial Center. The Maine Judicial Branch has said consolidation will bring efficiency; courts in some Maine counties have already consolidated.

The Planning Board found the project for the 120,000-square-foot building, which has a 34,545-square-foot footprint, to be consistent with the comprehensive plan and would not negatively impact existing or permitted uses within the original zone.

The building is to be constructed on property formerly owned by the city at 511-515 Elm St. (known informally as the former Pate property) and 384 Hill St.

There have been issues raised by neighbors and others, including questions about stormwater runoff. On Wednesday, May 20, City Planner Greg Tansley said the stormwater will be directed off the property and drained to a conveyance system underneath Elm Street (Route 1) to an existing stormwater facility on city-owned land. Because the system doesn’t have the capacity to hold the extra runoff from the court property, the state will pay to expand it, Tansley said.

During the May 6 public hearing and later, a number of people suggested a third-party review. Planning Board member Spiros Droggitis recalled that one person had suggested a third-part review based on their belief that the city was still owed money from the land purchase. City Attorney Keith Jacques at the May 20 meeting said the state had fully paid for the parcel on May 31, 2017.

The Planning Board earlier agreed to waive a requirement for trees to be planted in the parking lot islands, and the state said it would plant shrubbery instead.

The proposed contract zone agreement notes that any trees required within a 30-foot buffer area around the parcel will remain unless they’re deemed hazardous.

Site lighting not necessary to maintain minimal security is to be dimmed after normal business hours, the proposed contract states.

The vote of the four Planning Board members present — Droggitis, Bruce Benway, Michael Cantara, and Sean Tarpey — was unanimous. The chair, William Southwick, votes only in the event of a tie. Members Roch Angers and Alexa Plotkin were absent.

The judicial center was funded in 2016 by a bill sponsored by former Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, that allocated $65 million for the project. Later that year, a court site selection commission chose the Elm Street site as the location for the new courthouse.

The project is expected to be bid in two phases; the first, for site and foundation work, in August.

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