Shown here is a preliminary sketch of a 14-unit apartment building proposed for a vacant lot at 69 Elm St. Developers are looking to build a three story structure that would provide one bedroom and studio workforce housing units. Courtesy Image

BIDDEFORD — The Biddeford Planning Board had questions for the developer about a proposed 14-unit project on a vacant Elm Street lot originally proposed as affordable housing.

The ‘affordable’ designation for the 3,445 square foot, 69 Elm St. lot has been changed by the developer to workforce housing. Planning Board members said they wanted more information about the proposed plan and the developer’s definition of workforce housing.

The vacant lot is near the former Saco Lowell shop that is currently being transformed into The Levee, a community of 96 market rate apartments, and the railroad tracks.

The proposal for the three-story building was originally for 11 apartments, then 13, and now 14, developer Peter Lavoie of Plan East, LLC and Senior Project Manager DM Roma Consulting Engineers told the planning board earlier this month.

The building would offer a mix of one-bedroom and studio apartments and be owned by the applicant. The project would utilize public water and sewer. Electric heat pump units would be installed on the roof and screened from view. Because the lot itself is small, each unit would have a reserved space at the Pearl Street parking garage, about 500 feet away, rather than onsite parking.

When asked about handicap accessibility, the Planning Board was told there would be a ramp up to the property but no elevator to the second and third floors.


The proposed project is in the Main Street Revitalization District 3.

Haskell of DM Roma Consulting Engineers, said Plan East, LLC had originally proposed the three-story, 14-unit complex as affordable housing, but learned from the Maine State Housing Authority that funds for the program had run out.

“Nonetheless, based on the size of the units, the target demographic will be workforce housing,” said Haskell.

Planning Board member Michael Cantara asked for the definition of workforce housing in this case.

“Everyday people. It will be as affordable as I can make it, “said Lavoie, the developer. “I can’t quite throw the monthly rates out there right now; it depends on a number of variables.”

Cantara asked if Lavoie could speak to the annual income of the proposed tenants.


“That’s a tough question,” said Lavoie, who said he would be more prepared to answer at the next meeting. “I can crunch the numbers more.”

When asked, Lavoie said he had not planned a specific filtering process for a workforce category but would not preclude someone who made more money.

“The way this came to the board this evening is that it was touted as affordable housing and I understand now it is workforce housing,” said Cantara. “I need some sort of a guarantee or assurance that whatever that becomes is something we can count on in the years to come.” He said the developer may not intend to flip the property but “no one has a crystal ball” to see someone’s financial situation five years ahead. “I need more information,” Cantara said.

Planning Bard member Roch Angers urged Lavoie to call Maine State Housing Authority to inquire if affordable housing funds might become available, noting that can happen.

Biddeford has been seeking ways to expand affordable housing for some time and earlier this year convened a Mayor’s Affordable Housing Task Force to look at the matter. The city is a popular location for those seeking to build residential rental units, but most are market rate.

Member Susan Deschambault asked if the cost of reserved parking space in the Pearl Street garage would be included in the rent, and was told it would be.


She further asked if there is a space at the front of the proposed apartment building where a tenant could park, unload groceries, and then proceed to the parking garage.

“It was discussed with planning and engineering, and both thought that it was a bad idea to have a turnout there because it would be considered on-street parking and cause some issues,” said Haskell.

Members asked if there would be laundry facilities in each unit.

“Right now, there’s a ventless washer and dryer unit” designated in the plan, said Haskell. He said the units look like a single washer but have both washing and drying functions.

Planning Board Chair William Southwick asked about soundproofing on the side of the building near the railroad tracks.

“I’ll do soundproofing with additional drywall, “said Lavoie.

The board voted to designate the application as a major subdivision, which dictates the information that will be required as the application proceeds.

As well as needing city approval, because the project is within 500 feet of the Saco River, it will be subject to review by the Saco River Corridor Commission.

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