BIDDEFORD — On July 21, the Biddeford City Council voted unanimously to advocate for turnpike access west of the turnpike. However, some residents oppose the order if it would make way for a proposed mixed-use development off South Street that would add more than 500 homes, retail shops and more to the city.

The order authorizes the city manager to submit public comment on the Maine Turnpike Authority’s four year draft of its Capital Investment Plan — a plan for fiscal years 2021 to 2024 — to advocate for a capacity upgrade at the Biddeford turnpike exit that would allow access to the western side of the turnpike, where the proposed South Street Village would be located.

City Manager James Bennett said adding additional access to the city “from the westerly side of the turnpike should be included in the plan and that an additional exit between Biddeford and Saco is needed to reduce the volume of traffic in both downtowns,” according to the Portland Press Herald.

The option of an additional turnpike exit, leading to South Street or the downtown, has been discussed off and on for years. On July 21, some linked the urgency of advocating for access specifically to the western side of the turnpike to the proposed South Street Village development.

The project, which Mayor Alan Casavant noted was only in the conceptual stage before the Planning Board, would be situated on 330 acres of undeveloped property along South Street known locally as the former Clair property.

In a memo to the council,  Biddeford Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney linked  support for the additional turnpike access in the MTA capital investment plan to  increased development west of the turnpike.

Phinney states, “Through unofficial discussions, it is staff’s understanding that such work may be contemplated in FY2025. Given the potential for significant development west of the turnpike, staff believes the City would benefit from the upgrade and that the upgrade should be prioritized to coincide with development plans rather than follow potential development.”

Not all in the city favor the South Street development that additional turnpike access would make easier to get to and from.

“I’m a little nonplussed,” by the South Street Village proposal, said resident Richard Rhames at the recent council meeting during the discussion on the additional turnpike access.

“Under the current (comprehensive) plan that’s not a growth area,” said Rhames, who is also a member of the Conservation Commission.

He referred to the development proposal as sprawl and said, “the costs of sprawl are or should be understood.”

There are studies, Rhames said, that show that “development costs more than it makes,” and that only “nonresidential development breaks that rule.”

“I thought before this everyone was on board with the idea that residential development costs more than it pays,” he said. “I was not aware that the council had shed its fetish about controlling the mil (tax) rate.”

Resident Michael Swanton, a former member of the City Council, said he favored another exit but not if it was to create the conditions for a large development in the area.

“If this is all about a westbound exit for the turnpike, I’m all for it,” Swanton said. “But … if you turn that (Clair property) all into housing it’s going to change the dynamics of the city.”

Councilor Marc Lessard, the only councilor to speak on the issue, said he thought a large development would “give us a ton of economic benefit. Advancement for citizens, both in the school wellbeing and in traffic, and health and wellbeing for the sustainability for the city, and it’s all done by the current interests that we see that have been provided for us as citizens to take advantage of.”

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