A sign provides a hint of what developers hope will be a six-acre multi-use project along the Saco River, which could include a boutique hotel, condominiums, retail space and a marina. The project was delayed Wednesday after it failed to get approval for permits from the Saco River Commission. Credit: CBS 13

A $40 million mixed-use development project proposed on the east side of Saco Island was delayed Wednesday night by the Saco River Corridor Commission, which along with the city of Saco must issue a permit before the development begins.

A spokesman for the developer said the commission met Wednesday night in Dayton and decided it would not vote on whether to grant approval for the project, known as The Waters.

“It was within the first five or 10 minutes of considering the application that the commission announced there would be no vote,” said Mark Robinson, a spokesman for developer Bernie Saulnier.

Robinson said the only reason the commission cited was that the developer has not submitted detailed architectural specifications for the proposed hotel.

Saulnier said a project usually gets at least provisional approval before thousands of dollars are spent on a hotel rendering, for example. Portland developer Jim Brady has agreed with Saulnier to build the hotel as part of the larger project. Saulnier said he’d work with the commission to sort out the rendering request.

Saulnier said he hopes both the upcoming commission and Saco city meetings give him the permits so the project doesn’t get delayed too long.

“We were caught off guard when they asked for a hotel rendering,” Saulnier said. “Everything sets you back. You lose another month. If I don’t get building started this fall then we’ll have to build in the spring.”

Dalyn Houser, executive director of the commission, said the quasi-state organization was doing its due diligence on the project, and especially wants to make sure the water quality remained good.

“It’s a big project and there are a lot of issues to consider,” she said. “The river is a primary source of drinking water in those cities, so it [the development] could affect thousands of people.”

She said the commission wants to see the entire project plans to make sure they meet the guidelines to protect the water quality.

The commission’s aim is to protect the environment and scenic beauty along the Saco River corridor, from its origins in New Hampshire to its end in Biddeford and Saco. It was created by the Maine Legislature in the 1970s.

The next meeting, open to the public, will be held Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in Porter town hall.

Kevin Sutherland, Saco’s city administrator, said he was unable to attend Wednesday night’s meeting, but before had sent a letter to the commission supporting The Waters development. The project is scheduled to be reviewed by Saco’s planning board Aug. 8.

“The City of Saco is enthusiastic about this project and the many benefits that it will bring to our community,” he wrote, adding that the project aligns with community’s goals. He also said the project is designed to allow Saco Island to withstand the impacts of climate change while creating a more resilient downtown.

He added that Saulnier has spent a lot of time sharing the plan with the community and incorporating feedback, including via a website.

Saco Mayor Marston Lovell sent a letter at the same time saying he had campaigned on growing the commercial tax base in Saco.

“The multi-million-dollar project that the team at Saulnier Development are proposing is in line with this directive. The proposed mixed-use development sits along the Saco River in the commercial portion of that waterway between the downtowns of Biddeford and Saco and the Atlantic Ocean,” he wrote.

He said the project includes public green space that showcases the riverfront, extends the Biddeford-Saco Riverwalk Trail and adds two much-needed marinas, one of which will be available for public access.

The Waters project cannot move forward unless it receives necessary permits from the commission.

Robinson said last night’s meeting was the project’s second in front of the commission. The first was in late June, and the next is expected to be in late August.

The developer’s technical team also conducted a 90-minute site walk on Saco Island on Tuesday evening for most of the commissioners, Robinson said. He said the commission spent about two hours Wednesday considering the application.

The Waters will include 92 condominiums, 10,000 square feet of retail space, a small boutique hotel, a restaurant and two small marinas.

Although the commission had approved a project for a private, gated condominium community in 2007, Sutherland said he and others convinced Saulnier to reinvision the use of the property.

“It’s the opening to Saco and Biddeford,” Sutherland said of the prime location.

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