2017-04-20 / Front Page

Developer unveils Saco Island proposal

By LIZ GOTTHELF
Staff Writer

SACO — The Saco Planning Board got its first look at a proposal to develop the east side of Saco Island on Tuesday.

Saco Island is located in the Saco River on the south side of the city. Once a booming factory district, today it is home to both residential and commercial units in restored mill buildings as well as a train station on the west side of the island.

The nearly six-acre eastern side of the island has long been vacant and developer Bernie Saulnier is considering a mixed use development there, which would include 88 residential units over two multi-story buildings, a 60-unit boutique hotel, a restaurant as well as boat slips and public space.

Saulnier Development is under contract with Dirigo Capital Advisors to purchase the east side of the island.

Saulnier, along with architect David Lloyd and engineer Stephen Bushey, presented a sketch of the proposal to the Planning Board on Tuesday.

Economic Development Director William Mann said he liked the mix of use in the proposal, which makes good use of the assets of the property and would create a place that would draw people to visit and be an attractive place to live.

“There is no other location that has this view down the mouth of the Saco River,” said Mann.

Lloyd said the proposal includes a public walkway that loops around the island, which he likened to a smaller version of Portland’s Eastern Promenade and “a tremendous public amenity.” There are also 70 proposed boat slips, some would be for rent by those living on the eastern side of the island, and some would be allotted for others. Saulnier said there is the possibility of a marine business, such as a water taxi, kayak rental company or river cruise boat on the island.

In order to maintain a desirable amount of unit density and as much as open green space as possible, Lloyd said, the developers are proposing multi-level buildings, which height-wise, would be “in the same family” as the mill buildings on the other side of the island. Parking spaces would be located below the buildings.

Lloyd said there’s a grassy knoll that would partially shield the proposed development from the rest of the downtown, though the area is within walking distance to the train station as well as shops and restaurants in Saco and Biddeford’s downtowns.

“It’s kind of central, yet beautifully landscaped off from the downtown area,” he said.

The proposal also includes public space that could be used for events like farmers markets or concerts, said Lloyd, adding that “We’re going to start meeting with community groups and really get input on where that can go.".

The development group said they are also planning a community outreach meeting to get input from community members before moving forward with the proposal.

The response from Planning Board members was positive, yet a few had some concerns they wanted ironed out before the developers moved forward.

Planning Board member Vangel Cotsis expressed concerns about the suggested development adding more traffic into an already busy area.

Planning Board member Peter Scontras said if the proposed development was going to add marina slips in the river, developers had to keep in mind the federal navigational channel in the river and how development could impact the river.

Lloyd said the group is proposing marina slips in the same area a previous developer had. He said the previous developer had all necessary approvals at the time, but they have expired. Before anything is finalized, the group would have the area studied further to make sure proposed construction wouldn’t impact the river.

When questioned about the hotel, Saulnier said he was expecting a letter of intent from a hotel business on soon. “We know the hotel will work,” he said.

 — Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribune.com.

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