A conceptual image of Saco  Riverside, a proposed development of 12, 2-unit townhomes on the east side of Saco Island. Courtesy image

SACO — A proposal to build 12, two-unit townhouses on a vacant six-acre parcel on the east side of Saco Island overlooking the Saco River won approval by the Saco River Corridor Commission on Wednesday, May 26.

Ten commissioners voted in favor, three were against and three abstained.

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.

According to an April news release by Saco Island Ventures LLC, each three-bedroom unit at Saco Riverside 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.

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, and according to a July 2019 Journal Tribune story, was to take over a substantial lien on the property.  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.

Conditions issued to the developer by the Saco River Corridor Commission that accompany the affirmative vote include leaving 205 trees as a  buffer from the mean high water line of the river to an existing roadway on the property, to provide an undisturbed area for wildlife habitat and water quality protection. As well, the developer must install 179 additional trees and work with York County Soil and Water Conservation District on the landscaping plans, including any proposed invasive species removal, within the 75-foot buffer area. According to SRCC Executive Director Dalyn Houser, commission staff must approve the final landscaping plans and if there are questions or concerns, may bring the plans to the full commission for discussion and approval.

The fourth condition is that the developer accept the conditions of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Agency’s Voluntary Response Action Program, called a VRAP. According to the DEP, a VRAP allows applicants to voluntarily investigate and clean up properties to the department’s satisfaction, in exchange for protections from enforcement actions, and is intended to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated properties within the state.

Saco River Corridor Commissioner Eduard Chenette, a Saco resident, voted against the approval, citing environmental concerns.

“As a Saco resident, I’m all for finding a way to both address the lack of housing and the need to improve Saco Island, but as an environmental engineer, I have deep concerns regarding this project,” said Chenette in an email. “(A) portion of the Saco Island East property is currently contaminated with coal ash and limited petroleum contamination. The applicant for the project proposed capping the contamination without long-term monitoring, which could cause issues for the property owners down the line.”

He said typically, coal ash contains toxic compounds like arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. Chenette said he proposed that the developer either install monitoring wells as a long-term solution or perform remediation by possibly removing the contamination prior to the development.

As well as meeting conditions of a VRAP, the proposed development must also win approval by the Saco Planning Board, which initially took up the matter March 30, when it conducted a site plan and preliminary subdivision review.

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 April news release.

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