Saco Island Ventures LLC is proposing 12, 2-unit townhomes on this long vacant 6-acre property on the east side of Saco Island. The Saco Planning Board began its review of the proposal on March 30. Courtesy Photo

SACO — A developer is proposing to build 12, two-unit townhouses on a six-acre parcel on the east side of Saco Island, overlooking the Saco River.

Once the hub of industry, the York Hill parcel has been vacant for decades, though there have been prior proposals for various entities, including one that involved 30 townhouses and a marina back in 2006. Although that plan had city approval, it failed to materialize.

Edward “Ted” Moore of Saco Island Ventures LLC, headquartered in Marblehead, Massachusetts, purchased the property for $11,000 in a foreclosure auction in August 2019. It had previously been owned by J & B Partners LLC, which purchased it from Saco Island East LLC in 2017 for $1.5 million, Saco city property records show.

According to a news release by Saco Island Ventures LLC, each three-bedroom unit would have a ground level walk-out, a two-bay garage, and its own driveway. Access to Main Street at York Hill is by a 50-foot right-of-way by Central Maine Power, which owns property there.

The proposal is a private development, unlike a prior public-private partnership Moore had proposed, but found there was no interest in striking an agreement, according to the news release.

The Saco Planning Board began a review of the site plan and a preliminary subdivision review of the proposal on March 30. The proposal was also on the agenda for April 6, after the Courier’s deadline.

The applicant asked the Planning Board for a waiver of the requirement for a hydrogeologic review because the project will be served by public water and sewer, and because the developed area will be positioned within areas where the groundwater is expected to be more than 48 inches below grade. As well, the applicant requested a waiver for storm water management. Both were granted by the Planning Board in 4-2 votes, though in the latter instance, stability of the storm water runoff is to be addressed.

Once completed, the development  is projected to draw 176 vehicle trips a day.

“Traffic impact will be very low, and the land will be substantially improved to stabilize the ground, remove invasive plants and complete much-needed revegetation,” said project manager Steve Bushey of the South Portland engineering firm Gorrill Palmer.

A public hearing drew one comment. Saco Historic Preservation Commission Chair Kelley Archer informed the Planning Board that in 2019 the commission had contacted the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to address whether there were possibly Native American artifacts on the property. The SHPC was told that there were not, citing prior heavy industry on the property, she said.

In the news release, Moore pointed out that his proposal for the east side of Saco Island comes at a time when Saco is experiencing a low residential vacancy rate. He cited an economic development market analysis completed for the city of Saco in December by Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, New York, that showed in 2018, Saco had a 10.3 vacancy rate. The report also outlined that a third of the city’s housing units were built before 1939.

Planning Board Chair Don Girouard said he would like to see some parking spaces north of the development access drive so people could park and get to the RiverWalk or fish along the river, and suggested the city and the developer meet with Central Maine Power. He said he was expressing the hope that “something could be worked out” between the entities.

The city has indicated interest in expansion of the RiverWalk on that portion of Saco Island, and Saco Planner Bob Hamblen in his notes to the Planning Board pointed out that in a development on the west wide of Main Street, costs of construction of the RiverWalk were taken from impact fees, as agreed to by the Planning Board, and he recommended a similar approach in this instance.

Moore is a principal of Saco Island Ventures, LLC and The Forge Collection, which manages apartments, offices and other commercial spaces on the west side of Saco Island. The Forge Collection recently completed 31 new apartments in what used to be known as “Unit 91,” a property Moore bought from the city in 2018. The company also recently won Planning Board approval for the conversion of vacant office space into 12 new apartments in the mill building at 110 Main St. Construction began in January, according to the news release.

Decades ago, the vacant land parcel now targeted for development featured waterfront capacity that enabled loading and offloading of transport ships associated with Saco Island’s more industrialized land use. Now overrun by vegetation, the property has been largely unused for several decades. Remnants of that long-ago period remain on the site, with various rubble foundations of long gone industrial use still visible. The developer has said the property has been used as a campsite for the homeless, according to the news release.

The developer pointed out that the larger proposal by a different company — which was never built — had received approvals in 2006 from  the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Saco Planning Board and the Saco River Corridor Commission.

The land currently generates about $8,000 a year in property taxes, according to the news release. After completion, the project is expected to generate over $200,000 annually in property tax revenue.

 

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