2018-06-29 / Front Page

Piper Shores looks to expand

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


A preliminary plan prepared by South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics for the Piper Shores retirement community in Scarborough, shows the layout for a planned expansion onto 45 acres across Spurwink Road from the current complex. Presented to the town council along with a zoning change request June 21, the concept including 16 duplex units, a 24-unit apartment building, and eight two-bedroom cottages. (Courtesy image) A preliminary plan prepared by South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics for the Piper Shores retirement community in Scarborough, shows the layout for a planned expansion onto 45 acres across Spurwink Road from the current complex. Presented to the town council along with a zoning change request June 21, the concept including 16 duplex units, a 24-unit apartment building, and eight two-bedroom cottages. (Courtesy image) The Piper Shores retirement community — described a “far and away the largest (single lot) taxpayer” in Scarborough — is looking to expand by adding 61 living units across Spurwink Road from its primary campus.

However, it needs a contract zoning amendment from the town council to make that happen.

Meanwhile, some councilors would like to leverage from the 17-year-old company a bit more than the $122,000 it would be required to kick in to the town’s affordable housing fund as a result of its expansion.

“If you want to call it a quid pro quo, there it is,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said during a June 20 first reading of the new development proposal.

Piper Shores currently houses 360 residents at its 138-acre facility on Piper Road, just off Spurwink Road. However, Jim Adamowicz, CEO of Maine Life Retirement Community Inc., (a.k.a. Piper Shores), says that site is completely “built out.” That’s due in part to the fact that 96 acres of the property has been placed in a conservation easement.

The complex, which is assessed by the town at $64.7 million — equating to an annual property tax of nearly $1.07 million this past year — has 160 names on its waiting list for new residents. According to Adamowicz, that means a holding pattern of “three to seven years” from application to move-in date for folks who’ve already laid down 10 percent deposits.

To alleviate that backlog, Piper Shores has signed a $5 million purchase and sale agreement (making a $50,000 deposit) with David and Patricia MacDonald, owners of a 45-acre parcel located across from Piper Shores.

A 7,300-square-foot single-family home on the lot, built in 1999, is accessed by Dorado Drive, a private road located about 100 feet east of Piper Road. The property is assessed by the town at $1.04 million.

Although Piper Shores appeared before the town council just last week to begin the multistage process of rezoning the property, it actually signed its purchase and sale agreement with the MacDonalds nearly a year ago, on July 5, 2017. That document includes a 24-month deadline to reach all necessary terms, including town approval of zoning changes to complete the project, to close the deal.

Although the purchase and sale agreement cites a 40-unit housing project, Will Conway, of South Portland Engineering firm Sebago Technics, told councilors Piper Shores wants clearance for 61 housing units.

Conway said the home now on the property would be razed to make way for 48 housing units in three distinct clusters, including, in order of distance from the main road, 16 units in 8 duplex buildings, 24 apartments in a three-story building clustered around a central clubhouse with underground parking, and a batch of eight individual cottages.

The MacDonald property is currently in the town’s Rural Farming Zone, which limits development to one housing unit for every two acres. That would mean a 22 unit cap without the contract zone change.

“We would not move forward if we had to pursue the two-acre minimum that this lot currently is zoned for,” Adamowicz said. “The project is simply not feasible at that level.”

In addition to the larger allowance for housing units, and an increase in setback requirements, Conway said Piper Shores will also seek a greater building height of 55 feet to accommodate the middle apartment complex, and an increase in allowed road length from 2,000 feet to 2, 900, in case expansion of the site is warranted.

Adamowicz said the duplex units and cottages would be “mostly two bedroom” homes, while the apartments would likely tilt toward the one-bedroom variety. The new development would not include health services for residents, nor would if have the same kind of 24/7 staffing at the primary Piper site, meaning many residents would likely start at the Dorado Drive complex, then moved to the main Piper Shores campus as they get older and require greater care.

None of the housing clusters on Dorado Drive would be visible from Spurwink Road, Adamowicz said. Additionally, just as it does across the road, Piper Shores would maintain a network of hiking trails at its new satellite location, and keep them open to the public.

Conway, who called the development, “one of the most exciting projects that our firm has ever been associated with,” said the duplexes will be built in a “pocket neighborhood” format. That translates to homes accessed from the rear, with front doors that open onto common green areas.

“It turns the traditional development pattern inside out and encourages social interaction,” he said. “There’s nothing like it in Maine today.”

The apartment building “clubhouse” is “not completely thought out” as yet, he added, predicting it would most likely include “a pub or bistro, and fitness rooms.”

Conway said the difference between the 48 housing units shown on the plan presented to town councilors June 20 and the 61 units for which Piper Shores seeks approval, is simply to allow for potential future growth.

However, those additional cottages, which would have to be built deeper into the lot, are unlikely to ever materialize Adamowicz said.

“Because of the prevalence of wetlands there, I would tell you it’s not a strong likelihood,” he said.

As currently designed, the project would disturb about 0.8 acres of wetland, for which Piper Shores would have to pay a mitigation fee.

Scarborough’s affordable housing ordinance also calls on a fee. Under the rules, developers must reserve 10 percent of all new subdivision units for those earning incomes that are 80 percent or less than the median household income in Portland. However, the ordinance does let developers buy out of the provision for a $20,000 fee per required unit — in this case $122,000. That money is then used to fund other affordable housing projects in town.

But in addition to Caterina, two other councilors spoke up to say that’s not nearly enough.

“I think the value of that offset is something that needs to be determined, not just on a per unit basis but on a valuation of the property,” Councilor Chris Caiazzo said. “The amount of property we would be losing from potential development should be part of that consideration, as well.”

“It may not be enough to say you can buy yourself out of one affordable unit for $20,000,” Councilor Will Rowan agreed, adding, “I think the building cost is significantly higher.”

Meanwhile, Caiazzo also turned up his nose at expanding Piper Shore’s contract zone, a point of view Caterina seconded.

“I really don’t like contract zones,” he said. “Every time there is an amendment or a change it has to come before the council, which is a little cumbersome. Contract zones to me are something I’d like to be moving away from rather than toward, and we seem to expanding them on a regular basis.”

“I also do not like contract zones,” Caterina said.

However, town hall staffers say a contract zone is the way to go.

“It’s probably the best approach to creating a new zone,” Town Planner Jay Chace said.

“At the staff level we’ve considered all the various options for them (the town council) and we think by far and away this is the best option for them, and for staff,” Town Manager Tom Hall said in a June 26 interview. “It gives us some leeway and some additional things that we can ask for.”

However, Hall said there may be less room for movement on the affordable housing payment.

“Some believe that all bets are off on something like this, that we have great latitude in negotiating conditions, but those conditions need to bear some relation to the project,” he said. “I think it’s safest legally to stick with what our ordinance requires.

“I feel really confident that we have good strong percent in the numbers outlined in ordinance,” Hall said. “To require more than that, I think there’s some added work that we would have to do on that.”

The bottom line, Hall said, is the overall benefit to the town of any such development by Piper Shores.

“I’m really excited about the prospects,” he said. “They are far and away our largest taxpayer. And what they ask for in return for that in municipal services is virtually nil. They are nearly self-sufficient. So, for me, this seems like such a great thing, to be able to support our largest taxpayer.”

In that, Hall echoed Conway, during his presentation to the council.

“This (site) will require very little public service, have no school impacts, and will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the town in terms of (tax) revenue,” he said.

Piper Shores is scheduled to present its plans to the planning board in an informal sketch plan review July 20. The, at a later date, the board will review a preliminary site plan, before making a recommendation to the town council on approval, or not, of the requested contract zone.

Meanwhile, the town’s affordable housing alliance had its June 26 meeting bumped by a special town council session. That group will now meet next sometime in “mid July,” Hall said, at which time it is expected to review the Piper Shores project, along with Caiazzo’s call for a bigger buyout from the town’s affordable housing requirements.

news@scarboroughleader.com.

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