Developer offers 14 ‘workforce’ housing units in Biddeford

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

BIDDEFORD – Biddeford Planning Council had questions for the developer about a 14-unit project on vacant land in Elm Street originally proposed as affordable housing.

The “affordable” designation for the 3,445 square foot lot, located at 69 Elm Street, has been changed by the developer to workforce housing. Planning Board members said they wanted more information on the proposed plan and the definition of the workforce housing developer.

The vacant lot is close to the former Saco Lowell store which is currently being transformed into The Levee, a community of 96 market priced apartments, and the train tracks.

The proposal for the three-story building was originally 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 would be owned by the applicant. The project would use public water and sewers. Electric heat pumps would be installed on the roof and out of sight. Because the lot itself is small, each unit would have a reserved space at the Pearl Street parking garage, approximately 500 feet away, rather than on-site parking.

Asked about accessibility for people with disabilities, the planning board was advised that there would be a ramp to the property, but no lift to the second and third floors.

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

Haskell of DM Roma Consulting Engineers, said Plan East, LLC originally offered 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.

“However, depending on unit size, the target demographic will be workforce housing,” Haskell said.

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

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

Cantara asked if Lavoie could talk about the annual income of the proposed tenants.

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

When asked, Lavoie said he didn’t have a specific screening process for a labor category, but he wouldn’t exclude someone who made more money.

‘The way it came to council tonight was that it was pitched as affordable housing and I now understand it is labor housing,’ said Cantara. “I need some sort of guarantee or assurance that whatever happens is something we can rely on for years to come.” He said the developer may not have any intention of flipping the property, but “no one has a crystal ball” to see someone’s financial situation five years in advance. “I need more information,” Cantara said.

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

Biddeford had been looking for ways to expand affordable housing for some time and earlier this year he convened a Mayor’s Affordable Housing Task Force to look into the matter. The town is a popular location for those looking to build residential rental accommodation, but most are market priced.

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

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

“This was discussed with planning and engineering, and both thought it was a bad idea to have a stake there, as it would be considered street parking and cause issues,” Haskell said.

Members asked if there would be a laundry room in each unit.

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

Planning Board Chairman William Southwick asked about the soundproofing on the side of the building near the railway tracks.

“I will soundproof with additional drywall,” Lavoie said.

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

In addition to 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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