2018-09-14 / Front Page

Crossroads TIF plan stalls

As of Wednesday, no agreement for town councilors to review
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

While each delay does no favors to the developers, Scarborough residents worried about the speed at which the town has been trying to create a downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district may be cheered to know the deal is far enough behind schedule to throw off all previous timelines for a final vote.

The town council met in executive session for about 90 minutes following their Sept. 5 meeting to consider the pitch, which would create a TIF district for the 500-acre Scarborough Downs property, and the Route 1 corridor from there to Oak Hill, along with the surrounding town hall campus and shopping district.

A key component of the TIF would be a credit enhancement agreement designed to return to owners of Crossroads Holdings s portion of new tax revenue generated by homes and businesses built on the Downs property.

As of Wednesday morning, there was no agreement yet in place on a solid proposal to put before councilors, Town Manager Tom Hall said.

Hall said he had a meeting with the Crossroads developers set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, just after the deadline for this week’s Leader. He did not appear hopeful for a parting of the clouds. Lack of an agreement, Hall said, has put on indefinite hold all previous plans for a TIF vote as soon as Oct. 17.

“If I don’t have some sort of concrete proposal that I can actually provide to council for their review and reaction pretty soon, I don’t see this happening in the near term,” Hall said. “Absolutely, no question, the previously published schedule is simply not going to work at this point.”

Although the Crossroads development is clearly the largest construction project in town history, with partners Rocco Risbara and Peter Michaud calling a TIF agreement vital to their plans, some councilors have seemed cool to the credit enhancement ask, while others have acknowledge being leary of the yesterday-or-soon need for a vote.

“This probably won’t be popular, and I can only speak for me, but I will say I have felt pressured and threatened at some times by the language used by the developers,” councilor

Katy Foley said. “I’m free to say that because I have told them that to their face. I think they should take a different approach. I think they should be trying to get the town to work with them.

“I think this could be the best thing to ever happen to the town if we do it together,” Foley said. “I’m hoping that spirit can ring true as we move forward.”

“I am certainly not in a place where I have made any decisions,” councilor Will Rowan said.

“I really don’t like TIFs and I don’t like credit enhancements. The only way I would support anything like that is if there is a significant public interest,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said.

Caterina said she was “disturbed” by accusations leveled by some council watchers, who have accused the council of being in the developers’ pocket, and of having not done their homework on TIFs.

“The only reason you don’t see information going up (on the town website) is because nothing has been decided,” Caterina said.

The first 30 minutes of the Sept. 5 council meeting was dominated by residents decrying the TIF deal, or at least the expectation of the time that a contract was suited up in the express lane.

“The timeline the council is adhering to gives the appearance of a done deal,” said Morning Street resident Kristen Nilsen, who noted she is neither for nor against the TIF, just hungry for some type of hard facts.

“There’s a lot of talk right now about the divisiveness in town,” Mitchell Hill Road resident Paul Johnson. “There’s the concerned taxpayers of Scarborough. They’re just cranky and old. We have Road to Renewal, which keeps pitchforks in the back of their cars and sacrifice small lambs every Sunday of the full moon. And we have supporters of Scarborough schools who burn so much taxpayer money I’ve personally seen them roasting marshmallows over bonfires of $100 bills.

“None of this is true,” Johnson told the council. “But when these decisions are made, it’s you that is enhancing this divisiveness. You are the ones making us go into our corners.”

Like Nilsen, Johnson urged the council to put any TIF district plan out to referendum, and to spend the two months until the election educating the public on the numbers.

However, Sept. 12 was pretty much the last chance the council would have had to approve an item for the November warrant, given state law that requires absentee ballots be ready 45 days before the vote.

“You say to not worry and to trust you, all we are asking for is listen to us and take your time,” Matt Sither of Huntley Drive, who expressed fear that residential growth could drive school budgets up faster and higher than any TIF’s ability to cope.

The Scarborough Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) has claimed the Crossroads development will be the engine behind 3,100 jobs and $600,000 in new assessed property value by 2038, based on 1.7 million square feet in new commercial, office, industrial, retail and service space.

Phase I of that project includes a residential development with 48 units in four multi-family apartment buildings, along with 32 “garden style” condominium units, 16 duplex cottages, 30 single-family house lots, and a 12-bed memory care facility.

The planning board has already given preliminary approvals, with a final green light expected by the end of October.

The full master plan for the site envisions commercial and light industrial uses in the northern part of the property along Payne Road, near I-95, with a shopping center and offices in the western portion, along with more residential units and 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, but will likely give way to mixed uses including the village center long sought by many town officials.

According to Risbara, he and his Crossroads partners have seven companies already on the line for areas of the project near Payne Road earmarked for light industry.

That includes firm commitments from two tech companies not currently located in Scarborough he said. However, those agreements are to a large degree contingent on the developers being able to get shovels in the ground by certain deadlines.

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

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