The Biddeford City Council recently rejected a TIF agreement on the former Saco Lowell property at 59 Elm St., but Mayor Alan Casavant said he expects the matter will be worked out. A developer plans to renovate the building for 100 market rate apartments. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — The City Council on Thursday, Jan. 7 rejected a Tax Increment Financing District for the Saco-Lowell property at 59 Elm St. in a Biddeford in a narrow 5-4 vote, but Mayor Alan Casavant said he expects the matter will be resolved.

“The City has signed a Joint Development Agreement with the developer and has an obligation,” said Casavant by telephone on Friday, Jan. 8.

Tom Watson and Co., LLC, also known Port Property Management, which also owns Riverdam, purchased the former Saco Lowell building, closing on the property on Dec. 23. The company proposes creating 100 market rate apartments on the upper four floors. The lower two floors, which have limited height, would be converted into self-storage facilities.

The TIF that was voted down by the City Council contains a Credit Enhancement Agreement that would see the city retain 15 percent of the property tax assessed on the new value of the property  for the first five years of the agreement, 25 percent in years six through 10; and 50 percent in years 11 to 20. The developer would retain the rest.

The Saco Lowell Mill, which manufactured machinery used in the textile industry, was constructed in 1900, and is currently assessed by the city at $534,700. The reconstruction of the building is proposed to increase the present assessed value of the structure of to $14 million, creating $13.4 million of new captured assessed value.

Other provisions of the Joint Development Agreement, which was signed by  the city and the developer on Dec. 21 — and approved by City Council 5-4 on Nov. 10 — include a requirement for construction commitments by the developer for adjacent properties at 20 and 30 Gooch St.; easements to the city by the developer, which would allow the city to expand the RiverWalk at its own expense, along with future easements for further RiverWalk improvements by the city. As well,  the agreement specifies that the developer will reserve space for the city to connect the new Pearl Street parking garage to the parking area adjacent to the Saco Lowell building by means of a pedestrian passageway over the existing railroad tracks and space for a facility to supplement the city’s parking garage transportation hub, both at the city’s expense.

Some councilors have balked at offering tax breaks to developers during discussions at prior meetings.

Council President John McCurry was one of the five who voted against the TIF on Thursday.

“This welfare has got to stop at some point,” McCurry said.

As well, some councilors have expressed reluctance to provide a credit enhancement on a property that does not contain workforce or affordable housing units, though an initial vote on Oct. 20 was 5-4  in favor of the CEA.

Casavant on Friday noted the concern, but he pointed out that affordable housing wouldn’t work for the Saco Lowell property because of the expense of renovations.

No other councilors spoke before the vote, although two members of the public commented.

Resident Sterling Roop said he believed development can be accomplished in Biddeford without subsidizing developers.

Resident Richard Rhames said he believed that the former MERC incinerator had served as an “anti-gentrification device,” but with the incinerator now gone, the city has moved into “full-bore” gentrification.

“It seems like there are considerable pressures to build out Biddeford,” said Rhames. “The council ought to look before it leaps; perhaps it won’t.”

McCurry, along with Councilors Robert Quattrone, Michael Ready, Doris Ortiz and Marc Lessard voted against the TIF, while Councilors William Emhiser, Stephen St. Cyr, Norman Belanger and Amy Clearwater voted in favor.

“The bottom line is this will be worked out,” Casavant said.

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