The city of Biddeford has been asked by a developer to change the zoning on a 330-acre tract of land on South Street from rural farm to a new village mixed use zone that would allow commercial as well as residential units. Under the proposal, the property could accommodate as many as 566 units. Courtesy image

BIDDEFORD — A 330-acre tract of land off South Street near the Maine Water Company plant now under construction could sport as many as 566 units in a mixture of multi-family dwellings, duplexes, single-family units and commercial space.

South Street Village LLC has asked the city of Biddeford to develop a new Village Mixed Use zone that would allow partners Richard “Chico” Potvin, Matthew Chamberlain and Paul Vose to build a village type neighborhood, where one could get a haircut, meet friends for coffee, and then walk home.

The City Council has asked the Planning Board to come back to them with a zoning concept in two months or less, Economic Development Director Matthew Eddy said at a July 15 workshop.

One suggestion is development of a master plan for the area in its entirety, Biddeford Planner Greg Tansley said a week later in a workshop with the Planning Board and Conservation Commission.

“We had talked about something akin to the UNE (University of New England) institutional zone and a follow up with master plan requirements,” said Tansley. If it turns out a master plan would be required, then only once that is approved would the developer, which has not filed an application for the project as of yet, be able to proceed. Any zoning changes require public hearings.

The land, known as the former Clair property, is primarily zoned rural farm; a part of it includes a mobile home overlay zone. The minimum lot size would include 50 feet of frontage, a minimum front setback of zero and a maximum front setback of 15 feet, according to an overview presented to the Planning Board. Minimum side and rear setbacks would be 10 feet, under the proposal. The properties would include public water. The village center portion of the property would feature duplexes and multiplexes of three or more units, with single-family dwellings situated elsewhere on the property.

Consultant Mitchell Rasor, a landscape architect retained by South Street Village LLC, told the Planning Board that such a concept encourages common sense growth.

“We hope this ordinance frees up a way to design a community in a neighborhood sensitive to the market … natural environment and cultural resources,” he said at the July 15 workshop.

Rasor noted the potential for a new turnpike spur off Exit 32.

The neighborhood would have a village scale with a range of mixed uses like a deli, offices, and a barbershop. It wouldn’t compete with downtown Biddeford, Rasor said, but it would have a public component.

There would be trails on the property and a 20-acre solar array is planned, he said.

The area is next to about 400 acres of open space, which includes 35 acres owned by a land trust and the rest by the city of Biddeford and Maine Water Company.

“We’re not just coming in with cookie cutter houses,” said Potvin, a local developer. “We’re not a bunch of carpetbaggers coming in; we’re really sincere about this project. I think we need this in Biddeford. It fills a void of lack of home ownership.”

Planning Board member Michael Cantara asked if the project would allow or encourage affordable housing.

Potvin referred to the proposal as having “attainable” housing — he said in the last few years, people with roots in Biddeford are moving elsewhere because there is little housing available locally.

Conservation Commission member Richard Rhames said he heard “a lot of good questions, but I didn’t hear any concrete answers,” from the developers. People he’s talked with say the proposal is too big, he said, and that it contravenes the current comprehensive plan.

“Conservation (Commission) has extreme concerns about this on many levels,” he said. “This pounding development into the city’s outskirts will be a financial and environmental loser.”

Rhames called the proposal a recipe for sprawl.

Conservation Commission member Susan Amons said she believes the city’s new comprehensive plan should be accepted before reviewing and considering new zoning changes. She said a change of use from rural farm zone to commercial use is not appropriate for land adjacent to Thatcher Brook and the Saco River.

“Zero setback is really unacceptable,” when it comes to protecting the watershed, Amons said.

Cantara said he would recommend the Saco River Corridor Commission be notified and that entity can decide whether the proposal would come within their purview.

He had other questions.

“I’m unclear about what the city of Biddeford gains by shifting attention and population density away from its historic downtown,” said Cantara. “There may be answers to that.”

Another speaker wondered whether South Street would have to be widened.

Southwick noted that if the zoning were to change, the development project would evolve over time. The project developers have estimated a 10- to 20-year period to build in its entirely.

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