Developer Tim Harrington of of BVH Biddeford, LLC has proposed major renovations to the Five Points Shopping Center, which would include upgrades to retail space, transforming the center into a high rise apartment building and adding garden apartments nearby on land that is currently vacant. Courtesy Image

BIDDEFORD — Five Points Shopping Center could be transformed into a “live, work” center — a combination of commercial spaces and apartment and condominium units — pending approval by the city of a contract zone.

A revamped and expanded center at 420 Alfred St. — Route 111 — would retain the commercial spaces at either ends and the three existing buildings toward Route 111. A preliminary plan outlines construction of a 6-story tower, providing a mixture of apartments and condos with an estimated 150 market rate, 1,500 square foot units, according to a synopsis provided by Biddeford Planning and Development Director Mathew Eddy. The new structure would be located in the center of the present facility. As well, four new buildings on vacant land at the northeast end of the project with walking connections to the playing fields on May Street would feature  garden apartments. Eddy said initial conversations on the garden apartment portion of the proposed project focused on it being a 55 and older community and that the developer is “receptive to income targeting.” 

City property records show the main portion of the Five Points Shopping Center was built in the late 1970s. The complex, which also contains three accessory commercial buildings, is currently valued by the city at $9.6 million and was purchased by developer Tim Harrington of BVH Biddeford, LLC in 2016 for about $1 million.

A local developer is proposing a contract zone at Five Points Shopping Center, which, if approved, would allow creation of a high rise apartment complex in the center, renovated retail spaces, and include garden apartments nearby. Courtesy Image

A more detailed proposal as outlined by the developers references 130 market rate apartments on the main site, part of a complete renovation of the west wing of the shopping center. While retaining the major anchors and other tenant spaces west of the core, the balance of the center would be rebuilt with a high-rise residential apartment component in the middle section of the building, according to the proposal. The developers envision upwards of six to seven stories of market rate apartments over first floor retail space. The retail use would have a 12-to-14-foot ceiling height typical of medium-sized retail spaces, placing the high-rise at 85 to 90 feet. The high-rise would be sited central to the parking lot to take advantage of the majority of the parking for shared use between retail and residential needs. The portion west of the central high-rise would be rebuilt as a family entertainment complex with an indoor theater and smaller retail shopping spaces. The balance of the center would receive façade upgrades, according to the proposal.

Additionally, the proposal references 128 garden apartments created in four, four-story buildings on 4.8 acres, sited with a 50-foot-wide green belt to buffer them from the abutting single-family residential neighborhood.

The site is on a transit route, wrote Eddy, and close to other retail shopping areas and commercial businesses.

A contract would be required because current zoning does not allow residential uses.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the City Council voted to send the proposal to the Planning Board for review. In order for the proposal to move forward, the Planning Board would issue a recommendation to the City Council, which would cast a vote.

“I think this is a great idea,” said resident Sterling Roop. “It’s smart growth and will be a good thing for our community.” But, Roop added, he didn’t think it was the right time for a large contract zone while the Planning Board was working on a new Comprehensive Plan.

Resident Meaghan Daly agreed. She said she likes the proposal, but expressed misgivings.

“This is not the way we need to be pursuing these type of development strategies in Biddeford,” said Daly. “I’d like to see it be part of the Comprehensive Plan.”

Councilor Marc Lessard said he understood their concern about the Comprehensive Plan.

“Unfortunately, investment dollars don’t wait to see what the outcome might be next month, next year or five years from now,” said Lessard, noting the project cannot move forward unless a contract zone is approved.

Mayor Alan Casavant agreed.

“Development moves on, it is not stagnant, it is ongoing and there is always a window of opportunity,” said Casavant. “This proposal is interesting. It’s next to a residential district — May Street, Westmoreland, some residential (areas) across the street. It’s a natural extension of a residential zone, not something drastically out of character. It’s a great project because it takes advantage of space that improves the economic realities. Shopping centers are in trouble today because of Amazon, so sending this to the Planning Board is a good move.”

Councilor William Emhiser noted the current ordinance governing contract zones references the council endorsing a proposal before sending it on to the Planning Board — something he said the community sees as a predetermined outcome.

Councilor Amy Clearwater said she too has heard similar concern expressed by residents — and also by some Planning Board members.

In the end, the council voted to send the matter to the Planning Board for review; the Planning Board would then advise the council on the matter. The vote was 7-2, with Councilors John McCurry and Robert Quattrone voting in opposition.

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