The Massachusetts developer who purchased the east side of Saco Island in a foreclosure auction is proposing a housing project far smaller than previous high-profile development proposals for the downtown property.

Edward “Ted” Moore submitted a proposal to the Saco Planning Board last week to build 12 duplex townhouses on the property where developers in the past have planned ambitious mixed-use developments to transform the empty parcel of land on the banks of the Saco River. The proposal comes at a time when Saco and neighboring Biddeford are seeing unprecedented demand for apartments.

Moore bought the undeveloped 6-acre parcel on Saco Island in a 2019 foreclosure auction after the previous owner, developer Bernie Saulnier, failed to pay his mortgage on the property. Saulnier had proposed a $40 million mixed-use development called The Waters that would have included a hotel, restaurant and retail space, a marina and 87 apartment units. The project was never approved.

A different developer received approval in 2007 to build luxury condos and a marina on the site, but that project fell apart during the recession. A 2015 proposal by developer Sam Zaitlin to build a four-story, 50,000-square-foot office building with river views never came to fruition.

Saco Island – also known as Factory Island – sits in the Saco River between the downtowns of Biddeford and Saco. It links both cities’ historic mill districts, where developers in the last decade have transformed former textile factories into housing, and commercial and light industrial spaces.

Much of the redevelopment activity in downtown Saco in recent years has been focused on the west side Saco Island, where Chinburg Property opened 150 market-rate apartments in the renovated Mill 4. The Forge Collection, for which Moore is a principal, 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 recently received 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 of this year.

But the east side of the island has sat vacant for years. Decades ago, there were various buildings on the property that was used to load and offload transport ships. It is now overrun by vegetation, but the rubble foundations are still visible. There have been complaints in recent years of graffiti, trespassing and campfires on the land, the developer said.

The new plan for 24 three-bedroom units on the east side of the island is designed to bring more residents downtown to support local businesses, the developer said. Unlike past proposals, it does not require a public-private partnership and Moore is not seeking a tax increment financing agreement for the project similar to the one approved by the Saco City Council for the 2007 development.

The land currently generates $8,000 a year in property taxes for the city of Saco. After completion, it is expected to generate over $200,000 annually in property tax revenue for the city. No information was available about prices for the planned townhomes.

“These townhouses will be very tasteful, and when the project is finished it will contribute far more property tax revenue to the city than the vacant land,” Stephen Bushey, the project manager and a senior associate at Gorrill Palmer, said in a news release. “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. The residential scale development appears to fit well with the zoning, both locally and with the (Saco River Corridor Commission) General Development Zone designation.”

The planning board took its first look at the proposal on March 30. The board found the application was complete and asked the applicant to return with more information about technical aspects of the project. City Planner Bob Hamblen said in a memo to the board that he anticipates it will take at least two meetings to completely review the project, which requires both site plan and subdivision review.

“As has been true in the past for this location, abutters, while numerous, do not feel themselves to be directly impacted by development on this side of Saco Island – staff has not heard from concerned parties,” Hamblen wrote.

The project will require permits from the Saco River Corridor Commission and Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The Maine Department of Transportation, which approved a Traffic Movement Permit for the 2007 project, will need updated information, according to city planning documents.

The Saco River Corridor Commission will review the project on April 28.


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