A developer has proposed removing this vacant former office building on Graham Street and replacing it with a 72-unit market rate apartment building and has requested a contract zone. The Biddeford City Council didn’t vote for it, and they didn’t vote against it. They said nothing at all. Courtesy Photo

BIDDEFORD — A request for an endorsement of a contract zone to allow development of 72 market rate apartments at 200 and 208 Graham St. went nowhere when the Biddeford City Council fell silent after it was introduced.

With no motion and no second, the matter could not progress, said Mayor Alan Casavant of what transpired at the Nov. 16 Biddeford City Council meeting.

“I was totally surprised by that,” said Casavant. “I have seen it once or twice, but it is very unusual, especially when there were people in the audience who wanted to speak on the issue. Without a motion or a second, there can be no discussion. So, I had to move on.”

None of the councilors spoke about the matter at the meeting.

Casavant said the only concerns he had heard about the project was the lack of affordable housing and the ongoing issue of creating contract zones. Councilors in the past have expressed their dislike of contract zones, particularly when the city’s new Comprehensive Plan is incomplete.

The property is located at 200 and 208 Graham St. and together measures 1.63 acres. According to information from engineers Gorrill Palmer, the site is in the R2 Zone where the net residential density is 4,500  square feet per unit, limiting the site to 15 residential units. The applicant asked for a contract zone because it planned to develop a 72-unit project, with each unit estimated at 986 square feet, according to information submitted to the city’s Planning Department by Stephen Bushey of Gorrill Palmer.

The property contains a vacant, 21,666-square-foot building, constructed in 1965, that formerly housed the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. It would be demolished and a new, 24,000-square-foot building would be constructed on the property, sporting 72  one- and two-bedroom units and 90 parking spaces.

“The proposed development site uses a previously developed lot, and provides market rate apartment housing density in an area that benefits from proximity to the city’s downtown core, the primary travel corridors, schools, local services, recreational and employment opportunities,” Bushey wrote in a letter to Biddeford City Planner Greg Tansley.

According to a memo to the City Council from Tansley and Planning and Development Director Mathew Eddy, “staff worked with affordable housing developers to develop this site as a low-income housing, tax credit project. After running through pro-formas, the developers walked away from this project. It lacked the density, and therefore cost effectiveness, to propose it for a low-income housing tax credit. The primary reason noted was the competitive nature of tax credit applications with Maine Housing; this project was thought to not be competitive, given cost implications at the time.”

If the City Council had endorsed the project, it would have moved on to the Planning Board for review. According to Tansley and Eddy’s memo, if the council elects not endorse a contract zone request, the project stops.

Asked by a reporter if the matter would likely be brought up again, Casavant said “probably,” but was not sure when.

“I suspect that Mat Eddy will convey to the developers the ongoing concerns of the council, but with the caveat that there is a new council coming into place,” Casavant said.

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