2018-08-24 / Front Page

TIF is going to take time

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Fifty minutes into an Aug. 15 town council workshop presentation on a proposed tax increment financing (TIF) deal designed to enable construction from scratch of Scarborough’s first genuine downtown village, Town Manager Tom Hall made an announcement — there was no deal.

At least not yet.

“Despite our best efforts — we’ve been negotiating in earnest for two months at this point — we still have some further work to do,” Hall said.

Instead, the workshop served to give councilors and overview of the development project at the 500-acre Scarborough Downs property, and to pitch them on the need for the TIF in order to make it happen.

Hall said final numbers on the contract should be available in “10 days to two weeks,” and the council set an Aug. 21 closed-door meeting, since canceled, to go over details with the town attorney.

Hall said to expect a second council workshop on September 5, to be followed by a public hearing Sept. 19 and a final council vote on Oct. 3.

Given that rapid timeline, some councilors seemed ready to put a foot on the financial brake.

“I think we have a tremendous fiduciary responsibility,” councilor Peter Hayes said. “This could be the biggest business development ever for Scarborough, and maybe the state. I think we need some business consultants who are impartial to say, have we mailed this.”

“This is the hugest project we’ve ever seen,” Counselor Katy Foley agreed. “It will have the largest impact on our town in many, many, many years. But we want a decision in, like, 35 days. But we don’t have any details yet. I have no idea what the numbers are even roughly right now, or even what’s being negotiated.

“I don’t want us to miss an opportunity to do this right because we’re in a hurry,” Foley said. ”I think doing it right is more important, even if it takes us another week or two. I hope that we’ll have enough time with the information to be thoughtful and mindful in all of our decisions.”

Rocky Risbara, one of the partners in Crossroads Holdings, the firm that in January paid $6.7 million for the Downs property, expressed concern that any delay could scuttle the project, either wholly or in part.

“I completely understand what you folks are saying in regards to time, but time is very important to us,” Risbara said. “We’ve put a lot of time into figuring out what is the highest and best use. When we put that all down on paper and work through the numbers, we know that we have to have a partnership, we have to have a credit enhancement agreement in order to achieve those goals

“This is important to us,” Risbara said. “We have users who want to go into the light industrial zone. If we can’t meet their timeframe, we’re just not going to get there.”

“I would encourage the council to look around at other communities and what is going on with TIF deals, because I can tell you we do as developers,” said Peter Michaud, another of the Crossroads partners.

“We are at a significant competitive disadvantage without any TIF action,” he said.

It is not just a couple of councilors suggesting to tap on the breaks.

Local grassroots group Scarborough Maine Advocates for Reasonable Taxes (SMARTaxes) issues a press release Aug. 17 citing “deep concern” with the deal.

We are at a serious significant disadvantage without any TIF action This guy?

Crossroads Holdings, a partnership that includes Peter and Richard Michaud, along with William, Marco, and Rocco Risbara of Risbara Bros. Construction.

Crossroads Holdings completed its purchase of the 50o-plus acre Scarborough Downs property in January, paying.

Group spokesman Larry Hartwell said that in addition to the rapid timetable town councilors have been asked to meet, too little is know about the deal that could return as much as $150 million in future property tax revenue at the development site to the Crossroads principals.

Hartwell also faulted the lack of available input provided to date to town residents and independent analysts of the deal, or claims made by Crossroads and the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) on the promised windfall the project could bring.

“The town has been relying on market data and financial projections provided by the developer’s consultants,” Hartwell said. “For an agreement of this complexity and long-term impact, we strongly urge the council to engage an independent expert in this highly specialized field to protect the interests of taxpayers.’

The planning board has already given a preliminary nod to the first 30-home phase of development in the Crossroads project.

According to Dan Bacon, a former town planner for Scarborough, now a planning project manager at South Portland engineering firm Gorrill Palmer, the completed first phase will include 56 multi-family apartment units, 24 condominium units and 24 duplex cottage units and a 12-bed memory care facility, in addition to the 30 newly approved single family homes, all to be built on 57 acres abutting Route 1 at Enterprise Drive and Sawyer Drive.

The overall plan envisions commercial and light industrial uses in the northern part of the property along Payne Road, near I-95, with a shopping center and business offices in the western part of the site, plus more residential housing, to include an assisted-living facility, to the east.

The historic harness racing track on the central part of the property will remain up and running for at least two more years.

Hall said current plans call for the new “downtown” area to go about where the track now stands, with the community center roughly in place of the grandstands, which Risbera said will be rehabilitated for that purpose

About 40 percent of the property is pegged to remain as open space, to include a trail system criss-crossing the site, leading to Oak Hill and to state-owned land managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Town Planner Jay Chace said the town is working with the Scarborough Housing Alliance to create a program for affordable home ownership.

As part of the project, 10 percent of the housing units must be “affordable” — generally defined to mean costing no more than 28 percent of gross household income for residents earning 80 percent of the median household income in the Greater Portland metro area.

Hall said the TIF package will likely be a 30-year deal which would return a portion of the property tax revenue attributed to increase value from the new development to the Crossroads owners. The rest would go to the town, and could be used to pay for economic development projects and construction of town-owned infrastructure within the boundaries TIF district.

Board chairman William Donovan said everything will be on the table and fully vetted before any decision on the TIF contract is made.

“We are going to work toward making sure everyone is comfortable,” he said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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