The development team interested in developing the east side of Saco Island hopes to begin construction in 2018.
This was one of the pieces of information shared at a public meeting held Tuesday at Thornton Academy by developer Bernie Saulnier and his associates.
Saco Island, located in the Saco River on the south side of the city, was once a busy factory district.
The west side of the island is now home to the city’s train station as well as former mill buildings that have been redeveloped into residential and commercial units. However, the east side of the island is a six-acre plot that has long been vacant.
Architect Katherine Detmer with Archetype Architects gave an overview of the proposed project at Tuesday’s meeting. The plan includes development of 80 to 90 residential units, 60 to 70 boutique hotel units, a restaurant and a marina.
The proposed residential space will be six to seven floors high, with the first level being parking. The proposal calls for about two parking spaces per residential unit.
Detmer said the plan includes a buffer of trees along the Main Street side of the property, so that those driving buy might see buildings “peeking up.”
The plans also call for a path around the perimeter of the property, and an open space that could be used for outdoor activities such as a farmer’s market.
“We are really looking to preserve as much green space as possible,” said Detmer.
Two representatives from The Press Hotel, a boutique hotel in Portland managed by Trust Hospitality, were at the meeting.
Press Hotel General Manager Michael Strejcek and Press Hotel Director of Sales and Marketing Brandon Hussey said the hotel company they represented was interested in building a boutique hotel as part of the Saco Island East project. Hussey said discussions were “very preliminary” but said the area was attractive because of its water access and its close proximity to the train station.
Members of the audience were generally enthusiastic about the project, though a few had concerns about traffic, noting that the recent opening of an apartment building on the west side of the island has increased traffic in the area.
Engineer Steve Bushey said a traffic study would be completed and the issue would be studied.
Glenn Baker, a member of the city’s economic development commission, said the property was a gateway piece of real estate.
“What kind of track record does your development company have of getting things done?” he asked.
Saulnier said he’s completed similar projects in Massachusetts and is currently working on a project in Portland.
“There’s a larger group behind me,” said Saulnier. He said if the project moves forward, he’ll partner with someone who is self-funded, working without a bank.
He said there are “quite a few team efforts” to move forward with the proposed project, and his team would be involved in the creation of the residential piece, and possibly the marina, but not the hotel or restaurant.
Multiple liens were filed, many of them now discharged, against Saulnier, in relation to a project in Old Orchard Beach, according to the online files from the York County Registry of Deeds.
Saulnier addressed this matter in a phone interview on Wednesday and said the liens were used as a tool of protection.
He said while working on residential developments The Legends and Sandy Meadows in Old Orchard Beach, an issue came up where another party claimed they had sewer and water rights.
Saulnier said he many sales for the project ready to go when the town filed a stop and cease work order against him and he couldn’t wrap up his orders or close on any homes, and then he was involved in a lawsuit regarding one of the parcels.
He said his lender, a bank, wouldn’t fund him until the matter was resolved, so he told his subcontracters to protect themselves and put out liens. He said in the end the project went through, and all his subcontractors got paid and are still working for him.
Saulnier said he has had a summer home in Saco for 20 years and made Camp Ellis his permanent home four years ago. He said he always strives to do a good job and the best he can, but said his heart is really in the Saco Island project.
“I love this city,” he said. “This is a reflection of who I am, and living in Saco, I’m more concerned about the community and the public then I would be on any other project.”