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The Downs continues push toward building town center

The Downs is seeking an exemption to Scarborough's Growth Management Ordinance in order to build its proposed town center.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Developers in Scarborough are continuing their push to transform the area around the former Scarborough Downs Harness Racing Track into a 524-acre mixed-use community

On Monday, developers of The Downs will discuss their plan for a proposed town center as part of the project with residents. 

"We're planning about 600 to 650 units that will be a mix of apartments, condos, units above stores, and commercial space, which is customary for a town center or a downtown," project developer Dan Bacon said. 

Bacon said the proposed town center would be built in the area near the former harness racing track grandstands. 

According to Bacon, several businesses are already interested in moving into the town center once it's built. However, the project has hurdles to jump over before that project can truly begin.

The proposed town center calls for 1,000 housing units within a five-minute walk of the area. However, the Downs is facing challenges because of the town's Growth Management Ordinance, or GMO.

Scarborough's GMO is designed to manage the pace of development within the community and regulates how much of the allowable growth in an area can occur in a single year. 

According to the Downs managing partner Peter Michaud, under the current GMO, the Downs would only be able to receive 43 permits per year. 

The Downs is working with the town to find middle ground for an exemption to the GMO.

"We're certainly making progress with the town council, and we're talking with them regularly about what are the conditions of the exemption," Bacon said. 

However, an exemption to the GMO left some Scarborough residents feeling concerned. According to the 2021 survey by the town of Scarborough, 67 percent of residents believe single‐family residential is moving too fast, and 66 percent of those surveyed believe multifamily residential development is moving too quickly in town.

"The residents have spoken, and I think it's appropriate for the town to seriously consider the rate of growth," Marvin Gates, a Scarborough resident who also serves on the town's Long Range Planning Committee, said. "It's created some significant concern."

A group on Facebook has also formed called Concerned Taxpayers of Scarborough, Maine, which regularly shares updates about the project and concerns over the town's rate of development. 

Bacon said he's hopeful the developers and town council can agree on an exemption by the summer so work can begin shortly on the project. 

At the Downs, more than 400 housing units have already been built, and Bacon said 60 more are being constructed. 

According to Bacon, the Downs will also be home to roughly 2 million square feet of commercial space. That is split between a light industrial area known as the innovation district, as well as retail shops and more that will be part of the proposed town center.

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