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 — Providing affordable housing and safeguarding the environment were on the minds of  Biddeford Planning Board members and members of the public during a workshop on a proposed new zone requested by developers.

A mixed use zone, that would allow smaller lot sizes for more residences and commercial space, in an area that currently only allows rural farms and mobile homes, is being sought by those proposing a development to include 566 residences and commercial space on 330 acres in western Biddeford along South Street.

The Village Mixed Use Zone, requested by South Street Village LLC, calls for reduced lot sizes, which would allow for more than 560 units instead of the 490 currently allowed, reduced setbacks, a maximum building footprint of 30,000 square feet, a maximum building height of 45 feet, and a 20-acre solar field. The development proposal includes a mix of multi-family dwellings, duplexes, single-family units on land commonly known as the former Claire property.

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.

On Wednesday, Aug. 19, City Planner Greg Tansley outlined the process of creating the zone, that would need to go before the City Council — which he envisions would take place in November — whose members would have the final say.

Board members should come up with guiding principals of what the zone would do and include, there should be a period of data collection, a series of public meetings and hearings and other ways of getting public input. If the council approves the zone, there should be period of monitoring and evaluation to see if the goals of the zones were achieved, Tansley said.

He noted that the build out of the South Street Village proposal is projected to take five to 15 years. A master plan, similar to one that was created for the University of New England should be developed that would include a broad picture of what would be built, but each new piece would still be need to go before the Planning Board’s site plan approval process, he said.

Creating housing, including affordable housing, is one of the key functions of the zone, Tansley said. “That there be some sort of equity and diversity and looking at all different folks and looking at how they can all be accomodated in this one area in some way … is extremely important, he said.

Planning and Development Director Mathew Eddy said affordable — or  housing at “attainable” price points, as it’s been called by Richard “Chico” Potvin, one of the developers  — housing would be something that people earning about 80 percent of area median income could pay for.

Several Planning Board members said they felt strongly about the need to ensure affordable housing as part of the plan.

I would want language in an ultimate document sent to the council … that would not just incentive affordable housing … but would mandate it,” Planning Board member Michael Cantara said. The language should say “you want to do this you’ve got to provide some affordable housing. I would not want a proposed build out in that area not to include affordable housing. I think it’s too important.” In addition, he said, he wants to ensure that there is protection of Thatcher Brook. Cantara said he wanted to see language to deal with both of his concerns in early September. 

At a July 15 workshop on the zone, Cantara didn’t seem to keen on developing western Biddeford, “I’m unclear about what the city of Biddeford gains by shifting attention and population density away from its historic downtown,” he said. “There may be answers to that.”

Resident Richard Rhames spoke against the zone, equating it to a recipe for sprawl.

He said the proposed zone and South Street Village development would be located on “the largest block of unpenetrated wildland in the city of Biddeford that sprawls into Arundel. This seems to me it’s like the textbook definition of sprawl.” 

He suggested conducting an economic impact study of how the proposed development would impact the city financially.

“This seems to be totally development friendly this whole process seems to be ‘tell us what you want,'” Rhames said. “… but what is alarming about this is … is that this is viewed as a template for the build out of the rest of Biddeford. And especially in the context of this zoomification, the idea of the public actually getting the chance to kind intervene in this seems quite limited and worrisome.” 

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