Surge in new Scarborough apartments both welcomed and questioned
The town can absorb up to 865 housing units now in the works, officials say, but some residents are concerned about the impact.
SCARBOROUGH — Seven housing projects now in the pipeline could add as many as 865 apartments to Scarborough’s housing market and the town’s tax rolls in the next few years.
If all of the apartments are built, they would increase the town’s 7,475 households by nearly 12 percent and increase the number of housing units by about 10 percent, based on U.S. Census figures. That’s a significant increase in a town where 78 percent of homes are owner-occupied and where multifamily property sales didn’t warrant a mention in the 2017 real estate forecast released last week by the Maine Real Estate & Development Association.
Three apartment projects have been approved: a 36-unit, market-rate senior housing complex on Griffin Road; the 38-unit Southgate House affordable housing complex on Route 1; and a 53-unit, market/affordable housing complex off Eastern Road.
Proposed projects include Dunstan Village, a 36-unit, market-rate complex off Route 1, and Gateway Commons, a 288-unit luxury complex off Haigis Parkway. Both go before the Planning Board on Jan. 30.
Town officials and others say Scarborough is prepared for such growth, although some residents are concerned about the marketability of so many apartments and the growing demand for town services. The Town Council last week increased the number of apartments that could be built under an adjustable growth-control ordinance from 215 to 500 units.
“It’s a reaction to the demand for multifamily housing that is out there in Greater Portland and York County, and it will provide the housing diversity that Scarborough needs,” said Shawn Babine, council chairman. “I think it will increase the overall value of Scarborough and bring a diverse group of citizens to our community.”
The potential property tax benefit is undeniable. Based on a projected market value of $90,000 to $150,000 per unit, a 300-unit project would have a taxable value of $27 million to $45 million and generate $429,000 to $716,400 in annual property taxes, said Town Planner Dan Bacon.
In contrast, the recently developed Marshalls shopping center is valued at $12.6 million and the Cabela’s shopping center is valued at $30.3 million, Bacon said.
Commercial properties typically demand more town services, including road maintenance and public safety, than most multifamily housing, Bacon said. Any increased demand related to the additional apartments would require the town to improve public services and make them more efficient, Babine said.
MEETING A GROWING DEMAND
Two of the proposed projects – Gateway Commons and the similar Commercial Place on Enterprise Drive off Route 1 – were approved years ago as commercial developments. They are being recast as multifamily complexes to meet growing demand for apartments from millennials, young to middle-aged professionals, local empty-nesters and seniors retiring to Maine.
“We’re really going after a lifestyle type,” said Ben Devine, developer of Gateway Commons. “It’s an ideal site for this multifamily project. We think it will serve the Greater Portland market well.”
Gateway Commons would be built off Haigis Parkway, directly across Payne Road from Cabela’s and Exit 42 of the Maine Turnpike, with Route 1 at the other end of the commercial parkway. Based on a similar project that Devine’s company completed last year in East Lyme, Connecticut, it would consist of 12 buildings with 24 apartments each. It would have covered garages and a clubhouse with a community room, outdoor pool, gym and pet-washing room.
The project would be built in phases to meet market demand, Devine said. The 280-unit East Lyme project was completed in two years.
If the Scarborough project is approved this spring, construction would start this summer and 75 to 80 units could be ready for tenants a year from now. Rents would range from $1,200 for a studio to $1,900 for a three-bedroom apartment, not including utilities. Few tenants would have children, Devine said.
“There isn’t going to be much impact on Scarborough schools,” Devine said. “These (apartments) are not designed for family living.”
Bacon, the town planner, estimated that only about 10 percent of the mostly one- and two-bedroom apartments proposed would have children, and few of them would be over age 5, thereby limiting the impact on the town’s recently expanded schools.
He also noted that if all of the proposed apartments were built, the developers would have to pay nearly $1 million in school impact fees, not to mention water, sewer and other impact fees.
Babine, the council chairman, said he has heard estimates that 865 additional apartments could bring 55 to 187 children to town, but he’s not concerned about the impact on local schools.
“There’s no way of predicting that now,” Babine said. “I believe our school system is prepared to absorb that amount. I actually don’t have a problem with our school system growing. I think that directly relates to the growing value and vibrancy of our community. I think we need to plan for it and be prepared.”
SOME RESIDENTS HAVE CONCERNS
Benjamin Howard of Windsor Pines Drive, a 24-year-old engineer, questions whether millennials will want to live in large apartment complexes like Gateway Commons or Commercial Place. He said those complexes would be ideally located off Interstate 95 and Route 1, and he believes the town can handle the growth, but he worries about the impact that such large complexes will have on the town’s character.
“I’d like Scarborough to remain an original town,” Howard said. “I don’t want to see the same buildings here as you see in other parts of the country.”
Portia Hirschman of Inspiration Drive lodged her concerns last year when town planners were reviewing the addition of 53 apartments to Eastern Village, a multi-phase housing development started more than a decade ago that includes single-family homes and townhouses.
Hirschman and her husband bought a house in the development four years ago after they retired. She said current residents struggle to get the developer, Kerry Anderson, to address unfinished paving, truck traffic, lack of parking and other issues. She looks forward to interacting with younger people who might rent the planned apartments, but she worries that parking, traffic and other problems will get worse.
“Many promises are made and it never seems to work out,” Hirschman said.
Anderson didn’t respond immediately to a call for comment.
Richie Axelsen of Colby Drive spoke against the council’s decision to increase the number of apartments that could be built under the growth-control ordinance. He also wrote a letter to the council about it. Axelsen is most concerned about affordable housing that’s part of the Southgate House and Eastern Village projects, as well as the proposed 84-unit Mussey Road Apartments.
“(Allowing) affordable housing to come into Scarborough (is) very disturbing,” Axelsen wrote. “We are allowing our town to become overpopulated, and the special character that this small town represents obviously does not matter to you.”
Axelsen continued, “I walked away from the meeting last night feeling like my wife and I made the wrong decision by building in Scarborough to escape all of this craziness that we (experienced) while owning a home in Portland,” where he saw affordable housing “overpopulate” that city.
Despite residents’ concerns, Babine said he believes that having more apartments in Scarborough is good thing.
“I think we’re in a good spot, because I don’t think this is a long-term trend,” Babine said. “I think it’s cyclical and it’s a big bump. It’s a nice place to be.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org