A view of the Saco River from the Elm Street bridge in Biddeford shows a warehouse building located on a four-acre property on Diamond Street. That property, along with eight acres currently owned by the city, and another parcel under contract, are being proposed as the site of up to 496 housing units over six buildings. The Planning Board held an initial sketch plan review of the proposal at a recent meeting. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — There is no full application on the Planning Board’s table as yet, but the panel recently conducted an initial sketch plan review of a proposal for 496 housing units at 1 Diamond St.

Lord & Harrington, LLC proposes to build condominiums and rental housing on the four-acre property owned by Gloves, Etc. Inc. and on an adjacent, eight-acre city-owned parcel. The Biddeford City Council authorized the city manager to enter a Joint Development Agreement on the property in May. It is set to be finalized by Dec. 31 but may be extended for 90 days.

Philip Chaney of Barrett Made Architects said Lord & Harrington, LLC has entered into a contract for the Domino’s Pizza property as well.

Chaney said six proposed buildings would encompass about 690,000 square feet, with an additional 84,000 square feet for a 150-spot parking garage to augment surface and subgrade parking — for 590 spots in all

There are plans for a park, an extension of the RiverWalk and other amenities.

The sketch plan application review gave the Planning Board and the public a chance to weigh in on the proposal.

Planning Board Chair Bill Southwick said the sketch plan proposal encompasses the developer’s general thoughts on the project. “Nothing is cast in stone,” he said.

One neighbor living on Horrigan Court, Mike DeMello, asked about continued public access to the Saco River — he pointed out there are four spots that are typically used to gain access by the public. He also said that the city-owned acreage is a location where some of Biddeford’s homeless population camp and have done so for the past several years.

Associate Planning Board member Michael Cantara encouraged the developer to host a neighborhood meeting when the plans are more tangible.

“It might be useful to hear from them, when the project is further along,” said Cantara.

He said access to the Saco River should be among matters to be discussed by the Planning Board.

Cantara pointed out that the project, along with the Saco Lowell development across Elm Street, is the gateway to the city.

“How it looks is critically important,” said Cantara, in part. He also said he would like to see something that addresses affordable housing and said there are many ways to define it. “It is something a proposal of this scope should entertain,” said Cantara.

“The Saco River is the jewel of the city,” said Planning Board member Roch Angers. “And the public needs to be able to get to it.”

Angers also suggested the developers create handicapped accessible units in the proposal.

“With 500 units, perhaps a few could be sketched out,” he said.

Associate Planning Board member Alexa Plotkin said she hoped to see signs inviting people into the property where a park is proposed.

“I hope it just doesn’t become a private park for people who live there,” she said.

About 30 percent of the units are proposed to be condominiums, Chaney said.

“Affordable housing will tie into how we balance the condo portion, we haven’t gotten into that detail yet,” he said.

The plan calls for six new buildings on the property, for residential and commercial use — though the latter is expected to be light, Chaney indicated, and is not intended to compete with other commercial areas.

A portion of the property is in the B1 zone, the rest s in the MRSD 3 zone and there is a shoreland overlay zone.

Two of the buildings in the MRSD 3 zone are designed to be 75 feet tall; the others, in the B1 zone, 60 feel tall.

Building rooftops are planned to have tenant accessible decks with views over the Saco River as well as the city.

There will be no credit enhancement agreement for the proposed development, but the city will seek approval of a Tax Increment Financing District that takes in both parcels, with the proceeds to be used to advance affordable housing within the city.

Southwick, noting the call for subgrade parking, said the area is seeing more heavy rain events that can cause flooding and raise the water level of the Saco River significantly. He suggested the architects contact the city’s climate groups on the matter.

There was a suggestion that the developers of the proposed project, in concert with others in the area, explore enclosing the railroad trestle and creating a transportation hub.

Southwick said he looked forward to more information as the project develops, and once an application is filed, public hearings will be scheduled.

“There will be a lot of interest,” he predicted.

Under the terms of the proposed joint development agreement between the city and the developer, the city would sell the parcel it owns to Lord & Harrington, with the latter placing $1 million in escrow. If the developer identifies property acceptable to the City Council within a year after the conveyance and later submits a plan to develop it into housing or a mixed commercial use, the $1 million would be returned to the developer. If no suitable land is found, the money would be released to the city.

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