A concept plan of a proposed 192-unit modular and manufactured housing development on South Street was recently presented to the Biddeford Planning Board. Courtesy Image

BIDDEFORD — Developers are proposing to build a new, 192-unit modular and manufactured housing park on a 312-acre parcel on South Street.

Hidden Hills Manufactured Housing Park would be situated on about 160 acres in the mobile home overlay zone of the large parcel, and near the new Maine Water facility. Proponents say the houses, expected to range between $100,000 to $300,000, according to developer South Street Village LLC, would help put a dent in Biddeford’s demand for affordable housing.

South Street Village LLC, represented by Jeff Amos of Terradyn Consultants and engineer Paul Vose, made a presentation to the Biddeford Planning Board three weeks ago.

The next step is a preliminary plan, which City Planner Greg Tansley said could come forward within the next few months.

If the site sounds familiar, but the proposal is different, it is. South Street Village LLC presented a 566-unit mixed use development for the property to the Planning Board in July 2020. Amos said the company had pursued a zoning change and a contract zone for some time.

“That found very little support, generally speaking, from my understanding,” said Amos. The developers switched gears and the 192-unit manufactured and modular home park proposal emerged.

Vose said manufactured housing parks “are a trending type of housing for a variety of buyers.”

“The entry price point is fairly attractive. We’re not here to call it affordable housing, but it has that component,” said Vose. “We’re also realizing for the price of renting an apartment you can own one of these. It is not for everyone, but it’s certainly a market that has legs to it.”

Homes may be as small as 750 square feet in the mobile home overlay zone, but he noted they can be much larger — like a three-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home with an attached two-car garage.

Vose said the mix is expected to be around 50 percent modular homes and 50 percent manufactured homes. The latter come attached to a chassis, which may or may not be removed, and some may be embedded in a foundation, he said. Modular homes arrive in pieces and are placed on slabs or on full foundations by a crane, with final interior work done once on the site.

Some residents commenting expressed support for the proposal; others wondered about the impact on the school system, tax rate, traffic, and the environment.

“We all know about the housing crisis for affordable housing,” said Guy Gagnon who said was speaking as a resident and not in his capacity as director of Biddeford Housing Authority. “I’d like my daughters to be able to afford a home in this community, which they can’t right now. I won’t pass judgments on the design, I haven’t seen enough, but it is an opportunity to provide affordable housing … it would be a sad thing to miss this opportunity.”

South Street resident Bob Brodeur, who lives near the proposed development, said he had heard rumors of a possible connection to the Maine Turnpike with the prior mixed-use proposal and wondered if that were still on tap — and was told it is not.

“So South Street would have to bear the brunt,” of the traffic, said Brodeur, noting travel is already brisk in the area.

Linda Brown, an abutter, said she is a proponent of housing people can afford to buy and live in, but also expressed concern about traffic on South Street.

“I’m very concerned about the density of 192 units,” said Brown. “In a development like this I’d expect two cars per unit, so that’s 400 cars.”

Biddeford resident Meaghan Daly said she is worried about a precedent being set, and the interplay between an overlay zone and the subdivision ordinance. She noted that items not covered by the mobile home park overlay are required to meet the requirements of a subdivision.

“My main concern is location, location, location,” said resident Richard Rhames. He said the soil there is prime agricultural soil. “Frankly, this is the wrong place for this kind of intensive development, and it squanders an irreplaceable resource,” said Rhames. “I hope the Planning Board thinks really thinks long and hard about this.”

Amos said a high intensity soil survey revealed that while online maps and data show most of the site appears to fall into that  soil category, “more than 80 percent do not, now that we have the test pit data and the evaluation.” He said that report would be reviewed both by the city and the Department of Environmental Protection.

There was discussion about access to the site by the Biddeford Conservation Commission, which advises the Planning Board. While the developers expressed reservations, Planning Board chair Bill Southwick urged the parties to talk “and find common ground.”

Under the proposal, South Street Village LLC would continue to own the land and would maintain the park. Residents would lease the land and own their home. Potential amenities include a community center, pocket parks, a basketball court, and a tennis court, according to an overview of the project by Amos. Each of the proposed 192 lots contains at least 12,000 square feet and is generally 80 feet wide by 150 feet deep, he said. Utilities would be underground. Homes would be served by public water and a series of shared septic tanks. Amos said much of the proposed development is tucked behind the tree line 400 to 500 feet from South Street. Closer to the existing road recently installed by Maine Water, which developers propose to be used as the park entrance, there is an open field, with views into the development, Amos said.

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