2018-02-16 / Community News

New owners sizing up Scarborough Downs

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

With the 500-plus acres around Scarborough Downs officially under the ownership of Crossroads Holdings LLC, William, Marc and Rocco Risbara and Peter and Richard Michaud and their consultant team are working hard to bring their development vision for the largely vacant property before town officials.

The team met with the town council last week in a workshop session to share the concept and get feedback before bringing a master plan proposal to the planning board as soon as next month. The board reviewed a conceptual land use plan in January.

The property sits in the Crossroads Planned Development District, a new zoning district that the town council established in 2013 to bring a mix of commercial and residential uses to the property when, and if, it ever sold.

Rocco Risbara said his team is still trying to figure out how many acres Crossroads Holdings actually owns, but Dan Bacon, a planning project manager at Gorrill-Palmer, said the property is at least 500 acres, with several hundred developable. To give a sense of scale, he said downtown Freeport and its surrounding area would fit in just one-fifth of the property and the site would take up close to two-thirds of the Portland peninsula.

Bacon said the team’s vision for the property is to develop the land into a series of small neighborhoods with a variety of housing (10 percent of which needs to be affordable), a community area with recreational opportunities, a variety of office and retail outfits and open space. The zone dictates at least 20 percent of the property must remain open, green space. Bacon expects it would be at least 20 years before full build out.

The first area developed could be a southerly area next to Route 1 that could support a mix of residential types, including multi-family, single-story living and single family housing. This part of the Downs property is adjacent to residential neighborhoods on Sawyer Road and is close to Oak Hill. The northern edge of the property (by the entrance to Payne Road) could be developed early on too and could include a series of commercial and light industrial spaces given its proximity to Payne Road and the Maine Turnpike. A zoning amendment would be needed, Bacon said, before that area could be developed in that way because the current zoning forbids industrial use.

Although further along in the potential development schedule, Bacon said the area by the track could be the place to construct a mixed-use “town center” with recreational and entertainment options. The track could be retrofitted into something else if the Scarborough Downs business ends. The business will continue to operate in the short-term due to an agreement to have the harness track leased back to the owners of the business. The part of the property north of the track could support retail, hospitality, office, housing or other business uses and where the stables are now could serve as one of the property’s residential pods with a mix of multi-generational housing, single family neighborhood or assisted living.

What eventually happens on the property will largely be dictated by market demands said Jim Damicis, senior vice president of Camoin Associates, who has been brought on to undertake a market analysis.

Damicis said based on his initial analysis, there is strong market demand for residential for all ages, a soft demand for commercial, as well as demand for medical office and light industrial.

He said in order for the project to be successful, it has to be well designed, met the market demands, fit in with the character of the community and be financially feasible for both the public and private sectors.

“If it doesn’t work well for the public. It’s not going to work for the private and vice-versa,” said Damicis, whose analysis is based on regional and national real estate data, interviews with real estate and market professionals and similar developments elsewhere.

Bacon said the development team will be asking for two small zoning tweaks because the boundaries of Crossroad Holding’s property don’t quite match the way the Crossroads Planned Development District is drawn out and a small section of the property that abuts Haigis Parkway is zoned differently.

“Whatever we have, we would like to be all one zone. That makes sense for us,” Rocco Risbara said.

The developers would also like to see the allowed uses in the zone expanded so things like light industrial/manufacturing, convenience stores and gas station and drive-thru restaurants could be on the site, as well as the possibility of establishing a TIF agreement.

Bacon said Crossroads Holdings would be seeking master plan approval from the planning board in March/April, with infrastructure works to begin in April. Work on the first development pod (likely the one near Route 1) would begin in June, with the second and third pods (near Payne Road and Haigis Parkway) in late 2018 or early 2019.

Karen Martin, executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, is excited about the project.

“This is a unique opportunity. We keep saying that, but I want to strongly emphasis that. So few times does a property like this come before the town and pres- ent the opportunities it does,” she said.

Councilors are also bullish about the project, but did have some questions about the project. Councilor Katy Foley wondered if the developers have considered alternative energy sources on the site. Risbara said his team has talked about that, but it hasn’t been explored fully. Similarly councilor Chris Caiazzo asked about sustainability.

Councilors Shawn Babine, Peter Hayes and Chairman Bill Donovan said they wanted to get a sense for how this project may impact municipal services, such as public safety, education and public works.

“The scope of what has been presented here tonight indicates this could be an enormously large project,” Donovan said.

Hayes said an “in-depth look” into the impact on municipal services is needed.

Foley said the proposal thus far has not raised any “red flags” for her and the town “couldn’t ask for a better partner” to develop the site.

“The town council is all in with support for this,” Donovan said. “There is tremendous momentum to make this successful.”

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

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