Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: May 28, 2021

Saco Island townhouses get river commission approval

some tudor style roof tops peak out from behind trees with water in the forebround. a brick smokestack can be seen in the back Courtesy / Forge Collection A conceptual illustration of the Saco Riverside townhouses, proposed for the east side of Saco Island by Saco Island Ventures LLC. The smokestack of the Biddeford-Saco mill complex is in the background.

The plan for 12 townhouses on the undeveloped east side of Saco Island was approved by the the Saco River Corridor Commission Wednesday night, clearing one of the final hurdles before the project can be built.

Saco Island Ventures LLC plans to construct the 12 buildings, each with two apartments, on six acres of the island, the latest of several projects to be proposed for the long-vacant site. The Saco River Corridor Commission voted 10-3 to approve the project's application. The commission, which has members from the 10 towns and cities along the river, signs off on projects that are within 1,000 feet of the Saco and smaller rivers in its watershed.

“I’m very pleased that we received SRCC approval, and that the vote was so heavily weighted in our favor," developer Ted Moore told Mainebiz. "That’s essentially the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and I’m sure the Saco Planning Board will be happy to see that important milestone is behind us."

Planning Board approval is the last requirement before Moore's business, Saco Island Ventures LLC, can start cleaning up the area for development. The board reviewed the plan March 30, but hasn't yet scheduled it for a further meeting.

"The SRCC regulates land and water uses, protects and conserves the region’s unique and exceptional natural resources, and prevents the detrimental impacts of incompatible development," said a representative of the developer.

"All responsible developers, including Saco Island Ventures LLC, understand the value and importance of going through this process. Any project that sits along the banks of the Saco River, from Fryeburg to the mouth of river at Camp Ellis and Biddeford Pool, must obtain approval from the SRCC. It’s a rigorous process, but a good one, and very necessary."

Moore bought the six acres from developer Bernie Saulnier in July 2019, and later that year proposed 15 townhouses with 30 dwelling units, as well as a marina, but later withdrew it. The new plan does not have access to the river. The land on the east side of Saco Island generates $8,000 a year in property taxes, and has long been blighted. Moore said the development will generate more then $200,000 in property taxes a year. 

Moore is principal of both Saco Island Ventures and the Forge Collection, which manages apartments, offices and other commercial spaces on the west side of the island. The firm has invested more than $7 million in renovating the west side property, and last year completed 31 new apartments in what used to be known as Unit 91, a property Moore bought from the city in 2018. The company in January began work on converting office space at adjacent 110 Main St. into 12 apartments.

Protecting the Saco River

The east side area, dividing from the other by Main Street, which is Route 9, once had docks that were associated with the mills on the west side of the island, and remnants still remain on the site, with rubble of foundations still visible. The site will also require environmental cleanup, which will take place under the state's Voluntary Response Action Program, which allows property owners to assess and clean up sites.

The VRAP plan proposed for The Waters, a previous proposal for the property in 2018, involved capping an area of coal ash and petroleum and elevating it, so it doesn't wash into the River. The current developer is using the same plan.

The development is landlocked, with no access to the river, unlike previous projects proposed for the east side of the island, including The Waters, which had a marina and other water access. The commission must sign off on development within 1,000 feet of the river.

The commission's focus with Wednesday's approval was largely on landscaping and trees that will provide an environmental buffer to the river. The permit was approved with condition related to the amount of trees, as well as requiring the developer to work with the York County Soil and Water Conservation District on the landscaping plan, as well as accepting the VRAP plan, which will continue to follow the property by deed.

Commissioner Eduard Chenette, one of the three to vote against approving the permit, told Mainebiz Thursday he's concerned about the environmental contaminants on the island and the possibility of them being a long-term threat.

Moore said the contaminants are "a nonissue" and cited the fact that another commissioner pointed out at the meeting the the SRCC had already approved a similar project with the same mitigation process.

“Everyone who serves on that commission has the right to say what they want to say," Moore said. "We listened patiently and quietly as one commissioner repeatedly demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the state of Maine’s VRAP process. But as a whole, the commission understood that the Department of Environmental Protection is the regulatory expert on this matter, and that their blessing more than adequately addresses the issue."

He said the townhouses will add badly needed housing in Saco.

"The city has invested significant money and staff time hiring professional consultants to complete an economic study, and convening groups of citizens to provide input as the comprehensive plan gets updated,” he said.

“It appears one message keeps cropping up, and that is let’s get more people living downtown supporting local business. That’s exactly what my company has been doing on the west side of Saco Island, and if the planning board grants its approval, now the east side of the island can also have new residents contribute to the economic vibrancy the city has been pursuing.”

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF