Biddeford approves development agreement for 216-unit apartment complex
The Biddeford City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a joint development agreement with a developer who plans to build more than 200 multifamily housing units and give the city $500,000 to invest in affordable housing projects.
Ben Devine of Devine Capital LLC wants to build 216 market-rate apartments on undeveloped land at 588 and 590 Alfred St., near the Shops at Biddeford Crossing. The complex will be similar to projects he has built in Scarborough and Freeport.
City councilors were receptive when Devine and his attorney outlined the project during a workshop in February, but asked Devine to consider including more three-bedroom units and amenities for families, and pressed for details about rental prices.
“We want to work with you, and we know affordable housing is a huge issue in front of us, not only in Biddeford but throughout Maine,” Devine told city councilors.
The council has been examining ways to address the housing crisis that has driven up housing prices in Biddeford and across southern Maine. Demand for rental units is at an all-time high in Biddeford, where downtown revitalization has sparked new interest in the city. The city also has had an influx of people pushed out of Portland and other nearby areas with higher housing costs.
But Biddeford rents are on the rise, too, prompting people there to look for less expensive places to rent or buy in other communities in York County.
The average rent on a two-unit apartment in Biddeford jumped 40 percent between 2012 and 2020, from $863 to $1,211, according to city estimates, financially straining working families and seniors on fixed incomes.
The intense demand for both apartments and single-family homes in the last three years has prompted the City Council to focus on affordability, density and incentives for developers. In 2020, the council for the first time adopted housing goals to guide policy decisions, hoping to generate more housing of all sorts – single-family homes as well as units for those with low incomes and seniors.
The new apartments would be rented at market rate. Devine said rents at his other projects range from $1,500 to $2,300.
In addition to the $500,000 for affordable housing, Devine has committed in the joint agreement to designate a family area inside the housing complex’s clubhouse, build an outdoor playground and establish wetland conservation easements. Devine also promised to promote inclusion of a child care center if any of the property is developed for mixed use before the end of 2028.
The developer did not seek any financial incentives from the city. Devine told city officials financing is already in place.
The council on Tuesday also voted to refer a request for a contract zone to the planning board. A contract zone is needed to move the project forward because multifamily housing is not approved in that area of the city. Greg Mitchell, the city’s interim economic development director, said multifamily housing had been allowed before the 44-acre property was purchased by New Life Church, which is selling the property to Devine.
Justin Sweeney, lead pastor at New Life, told the council that the church had been approached by other potential buyers who would have used the land for a storage facility, office buildings, a solar field or to grow marijuana. Instead, the church wanted to see if it could sell to a developer who could help address the housing shortage in Biddeford, he said.
“I see this as a win-win, bringing new families into Biddeford, providing much-needed housing for the housing crisis we’re currently in, and providing tax revenue on land that is currently tax-exempt,” Sweeney said.
The concept plan for the project calls for nine buildings, with 24 units each. They would include 27 studios, 18 one-bedroom apartments, 36 one-bedroom apartments with dens, 108 two-bedroom apartments and 27 three-bedroom units, according to plans submitted to the city. The complex also will include garages, a community clubhouse, an outdoor pool, a community garden and a dog park.
“I’m a huge fan of the project,” Councilor Bob Mills said. “I’ve wanted to see that area developed for quite some time.”
The planning board will now hold a public hearing on the contract zone and make a recommendation to the council, which will have to vote to approve it. City Manager James Bennett said that process likely will take two to three months.
If the City Council approves the contract zone, the project will go to the planning board for review.
“If everything stays on track, they should be able to pull their permits before winter,” Bennett said.
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