2017-11-03 / Community News

Patriot Acura seeking Scarborough home

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Scarborough is home to several car dealerships: Land Rover/Jaguar at 371 Route 1, Prime Motor’s Mercedes Benz at 137 Route 1 and Portland Saab/Volvo at 9 Route 1, but officials of Patriot Acura of Maine are hoping there is room in the market for one more.

Last month in a workshop session, the town council heard a proposal to locate an Acura dealership – the first for the state – on wooded land at 289 Payne Road, right next to the Maine Turnpike Exit 42 interchange.

“As the only Acura dealer in Maine, it’s the ideal location for us,” said Adam Arens, president and owner of Patriot Subaru, which was chosen by Acura to bring the dealership to Maine. Arens said he looked at other properties in and around Scarborough and felt the Payne Road site was the best option.

Before Arens can construct his dealership at that site, he will first need to get a contract zone agreement from the town council since the town zoning ordinance does not allow car dealership by right. Planning Director Jay Chace said the two nearest dealerships – Land Rover and Mercedes Benz – also went through the contract zone process before they could be built.

“That’s how car dealerships have been established in our community in the last 10-15 years,” he told town councilors before they heard Arens’ proposal.

The contract zone process is a multistep process by which the town council reviews the proposal and acts on it before sending it to the planning board for preliminary and final site approvals. The process, Chace said, tends to take two to three months.

“The contract zone process allows us and afford us the opportunity to have a detailed conversation around a particular project at a particular site and gives the council full authority to negotiate the modifications needed to make it work at that location,” Town Manager Tom Hall said.

A business applying for a contract zone must show their project has a public benefit and, according to the zoning ordinance, “have beneficial effects on the town as a whole, which would not result if the property were developed under the existing zoning.”

To that end, Arens shared with councilors the way in which he operates his two other Patriot Subaru dealerships, which he opened in Saco in 2004 and in North Attleboro in 2014. Arens said his dealerships’ motto: to serve our customers, our families, our community and each other “drives every decision we make.”

He said he believes making his dealerships a good place to work results in happier and more productive employees. His Saco dealership has been named the top mid-level employer by Best Places to Work in Maine every year since 2014.

The company been active in supporting such organizations as Preble Street, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland and STRIVE, was an early adoptee of the LED lighting movement and pays 100 percent of employee dental, medical and vision insurance.

The plan, which is still very preliminary at this point, would be to construct a 20,000 to 27,00-square-foot dealership on the site with access off Payne Road and Haigis Parkway. There would be approximately 250 parking spaces for customers, service, associates and displaying cars.

To a question by councilor Bill Donovan about the visual impact of the dealership and car lot, Arens said, the property would be “heavily landscaped” and lack the balloons and rows of cars, typically seen at other dealerships.

Councilor Chris Caiazzo said he had no issues with Arens or his dealerships, but was concerned about how it would visually fit into “the image of Scarborough.”

“You clearly are the right company. There is no question about the pedigree of the company and the community benefits,” he said. “My concern is that is kind of a gateway into Scarborough and it is the first impression people are going to get coming in, so my question is how stringent is Acura in terms of signage and displays.”

Arens said he is sensitive to the signage concern. The essential elements would be an Acura pylon sign and an icon tower with the company logo and other corporate standards.

“I think it will be what you are looking for,” Arens said in response to Caiazzo’s concerns.

Councilor Kate St. Clair said it would be a “large miss for us not to partner with you,” but voiced her distaste for the Auto Mile, a lengthy strip of car dealerships along Route 1 in Saco.

“This is a great starting place. Obviously we will need more info moving forward,” she said.

Councilor Katy Foley said she “didn’t hear anything tonight that concerns me overly,” adding the company’s vision, mission and commitment to the community makes them “the right partner” for a contract zone agreement, but would need “to see more details” before making a final decision.

“The quality of ownership and community commitment can’t be matched. You’d like accommodate a business that brings that to our community,” Donovan said.

Donovan said while he shares Caiazzo and Foley’s concerns about the appearance of that corner of the intersection, “there is a ways to go, but I would certainly look favorably on this based on what we have heard.”

Councilor Peter Hayes, who has purchased vehicles from Patriot Subaru in the past, said another Patriot dealership would be a “great organization for our community.”

“The devil is always in the details, so as we go through the process, I’ll be really interested in some of the things that we have discussed,” Hayes said.

Council Chairman Shawn Babine said the council has heard many requests for development in contract zones and the dealership is “the right approach for that area.”

Arens said he hopes to get the dealership up and running by eight months after getting the necessary approvals to begin construction. More information about the plan will be available when Arens meets with the council next and makes his formal contract zone request.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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