The Saco Planning Board is standing by its decision to change the zoning on the area marked MU4 to Medium Density Residential, rather than the Route 5 Mixed Use zone, as recommended by the city’s legal counsel. The zone in question was part of a two year review of the city’s entire zoning ordinance. Courtesy Image/City of Saco

SACO — The City Council could take up the first reading of their proposal to amend the new zoning ordinance to change parcels on Lincoln and Bradley streets in Saco currently destined to be placed in the Medium Density Residential zone to instead become part of the Route 5 Mixed Use Zone at their next meeting Feb. 22.

The Planning Board, which held a public hearing on the proposal a week ago, voted unanimously to stick with their original December recommendation — to leave the zone as Medium Density Residential, called MDR.

The city’s attorney, Jim Katsiaficas, in an Oct. 6 letter to the Planning Board and city Planning Office, said zoning the area MDR rather than the staff-recommended R5MU, would mean the zoning ordinance would no longer be in basic harmony with the 2011 Comprehensive Plan, and would need to be amended to support rezoning to MDR.

Under the MDR zone, multi-family dwellings of three to eight units are allowed as a conditional use, as is a category called multi-unit residential projects, though the number of units is not  detailed in the latter provision. Building heights are restricted to 35 feet. The MDR zone does not contain provisions for  Master Planned Development, which is allowed under the current MU4 zone and the R5MU zone as recommended by legal counsel. The R5MU zone allows mixed use development and high-density residential development, according to a memo to the Planning Board from City Planner Bob Hamblen.

At the Planning Board public hearing, resident William Kany, who was among several speakers, said the MDR zone creates consistency.

“Send a clear message to the City Council that (the zoning update) you worked on for two years, is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan of 2011 and 2018,” said Kany.

On Jan. 11, the City Council approved a new zoning ordinance for Saco, which was amended at the meeting to take effect in 90 days, rather than the usual 30 days. The new ordinance proposal, as recommended by the Planning Board, called for a new MDR zone, rather than R5MU, as had been suggested. Upon the advice of legal counsel, the City Council referred that item, plus a couple of others, back to the Planning Board for further review.

The neighborhood around Lincoln and Bradley streets is currently zoned MU4.  The John Flatley Company, which has an agreement to buy about 56.7 acres from the Lucia Kimball Deering Trust, plans to build a total of 366 apartment units in seven, 50-foot-tall buildings on the property. Company officials were to appear before the Planning Board on Tuesday, Feb. 16, after the Courier’s weekly print deadline, for a public hearing on a site inventory and analysis and Master Planned Development review.

At the Feb. 11 Planning Board meeting, former City Administrator Kevin Sutherland, a Saco resident, said the 2018 Comprehensive Plan made a point of discouraging sprawl by encouraging greater density in certain areas, like downtown and in nearby neighborhoods.

Resident Jane Caron said plans for increased density don’t take into account traffic issues that exist now, let alone the increases that would be brought by greater density.

After considerable discussion, the Planning Board unanimously voted that, “the board find its Dec. 1 decision rezoning of former MU4 to be part of MDR, was, and is, consistent with the 2011 and 2018 Comprehensive Plans and therefore appropriate for the Planning Board to change it to the MDR District.”  The motion also urged the City Council to adopt the measure.

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