2013-08-30 / Front Page

Council OKs zone change at Downs

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Zoning for land owned by Scarborough Downs between Payne Road and Route 1 has been changed by the Town Council in hopes of revitalizing the area. Town planners see the land as a place for mixed development. (Michael Kelley photo) Zoning for land owned by Scarborough Downs between Payne Road and Route 1 has been changed by the Town Council in hopes of revitalizing the area. Town planners see the land as a place for mixed development. (Michael Kelley photo) A referendum to bring casino gambling to Scarborough Downs won’t be coming to Scarborough voters this November, but action taken last week by the Town Council would make a casino located at the harness racing facility easier if it were approved by voters.

At its meeting Wednesday, Aug. 21, the Town Council approved a zoning change to allow mixed-use development at Scarborough Downs. The new zoning district, called the Crossroads Planned Development District, would allow a mixture of commercial and residential activity that had previously not been allowed. Recommendations to rezone the property came from the 2006 Comprehensive Plan.

Close to 400 acres of the property have been placed on the market through CBRE | The Boulos Company, but the harness track and business are not on the market. Andrew Ingalls, a broker with the firm said allowing for mixed-use development would make it easier to market the property to potential developers.

While it would not be a permitted use as it stands now, Town Planner Dan Bacon said the new zoning would allow for a casino to be located on the property if approved by a referendum by Scarborough residents and amendments to state law were made.

Representatives of Scarborough Downs, who helped the Long Range Planning Committee draft the zoning changes, argue that a casino is needed if Scarborough Downs is going to continue.

“This, in the long run, is going to be something the Downs needs to survive,” said Ed MacColl, who has served as the attorney for Scarborough Downs since 1989. Facilities like the Downs, he said, are finding it impossible to compete with horse racing venues that have already introduced casino and electronic gaming.

Susan Foley-Ferguson, a Scarborough resident who started No Again, an online group organized to keep a casino out of Scarborough, said voters have made it clear five times they they do not support casino gambling. Two of those times—in 2003 and 2008—voters turned down a casino at Scarborough Downs. The other three times were in opposition to casinos in other parts of the state.

Karen D’Andrea, another opponent of a casino, said she supports the new zoning, but does not support making it easier for a casino to locate in Scarborough. She said the Comprehensive Plan makes no mention of citizens wanting more gambling or a casino. It does, however, talk about quality of life and green space, two things casino opponents said would suffer with a casino in Scarborough.

Karen Vachon, a former employee of Scarborough Downs, said she is in favor of a casino at Scarborough Downs.

“They have proven without disturbance that gambling can happen there and not disrupt our community,” Vachon said, adding that harness racing, which could be revived with gambling, is “an important part of the agricultural landscape in the state of Maine.”

Vachon said rezoning the property and allowing for the possibility of a casino on site is an opportunity Scarborough can’t afford to pass up.

“We have 500 sacred acres of land located right next to Exit 42 (of the Maine Turnpike). It is a huge opportunity for Maine. It is a huge opportunity for Scarborough,” Vachon said. “The track is tired right now and needs electronic gaming to sustain it.”

Susan Wilder wasn’t so sure.

“The proposal makes it possible for one business to benefit,” she told members of the Town Council. “I don’t see the social benefit of it.”

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