November 24, 2010

Innovative Scarborough development grows on people

Despite a stuttering economy and civic opposition to his plans, the developer of Dunstan Crossing in Scarborough persevered with his proposal for an innovative model of 21st-century suburban development.

By Tux Turkel
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — Lynne Beal remembers growing up in Bangor in a neighborhood of children playing and riding bikes after school and on weekends. After raising her own family in Cape Elizabeth, she and her husband considered retiring to an adult community. Then they discovered Dunstan Crossing.

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New and existing housing units are reflected in a pond at Dunstan Crossing in Scarborough. It s a viable alternative for people who want to live in a place that integrates housing density, open space and a walkable community, but don't want to live downtown, one expert said.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Developer Elliott Chamberlain talks about his progress on Dunstan Crossing. It was cut from 445 homes to 288 after he successfully argued in court that Scarborough hadn’t followed its own comprehensive plan.

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Dunstan Crossing has gone through many changes since it was first proposed in 2002. Initially, it was to have 121 single-family homes, 185 condo units, 84 deed-restricted homes for seniors, 55 apartments and 55,000 square feet of commercial space. A community center, two miles of trails and a ballfield also were proposed.

The plan was modified over time, influenced by a citizen-initiated referendum and a lawsuit. Today, it includes 288 homes, of which 125 are single-family, as well as commercial space. The zoning and certain agreements with the developer provide flexibility to add units, and mix homes and commercial development, depending on market demand.

They moved last year to a new three-bedroom townhouse, among condos that are set in a neighborhood of single-family homes, with children playing and riding bikes. What at first resembled a remote suburban outpost to Beal has come to feel surprisingly familiar.

"Now, I can't imagine not living here," she said.

More than eight years have passed since Elliott Chamberlain first proposed an unprecedented 445-unit housing project here. Dubbed "the Great American Neighborhood," it sought to blend single-family homes on smaller lots with rows of townhouses and commercial development, stitched together by sidewalks, wooded walking trails and parks.

Over the years, a divisive townwide referendum, a lawsuit and a deep recession scaled back and slowed Chamberlain's plans. But as 2010 nears its end, the first phase of Dunstan Crossing is complete and work is under way on the next section.

Buyers like Lynne Beal are proving that the neighborhood Chamberlain envisioned is more than an abstract, "smart growth" proposal. On 120 acres of woodland off Broadturn Road, a model for 21st-century suburban development in southern Maine is starting to take shape.

Heavy equipment is building sidewalks that skirt a small pond, while contractors prepare six luxury townhomes across the street from Beal's row. Single-family houses set on small lots re-create the feel of a traditional neighborhood. A backyard play set and driveway basketball hoops say children live here.

Larger estate homes ring the neighborhood, but they're not the faux chateaus that stand isolated in old hayfields, on lots too large to mow but too small to farm. They stand on half-acre lots that feel connected to the village.

The general pattern will be repeated in subsequent phases, along with a mix of homes, stores and offices that will tie in Route 1. Build-out is likely 10 years away, depending on the economy.

A total of 13 single-family homes and 16 condos have been built or are under construction. Condo asking prices start at $350,000. Village homes range from $339,000 to $420,000. Estate lots start at $129,900.

Dunstan Crossing was conceived in 2000, after Chamberlain and his brother, John, went to a Maine State Planning Office seminar on smart growth. Embracing the concept, they began looking for land in southern Maine that was close to public sewerage and water. They hired a landscape architect, developed a plan and hashed it out with residents.

It was a period of rapid suburban expansion, and communities were enacting ordinances to slow growth. Dunstan Crossing would create Scarborough's largest neighborhood. Opponents, worried about traffic and overcrowded schools, gathered enough signatures to force a special election, which overturned town approvals.

Chamberlain could have acquiesced and built 60 homes on 2-acre lots. Instead, he went to court and won, arguing that Scarborough had failed to follow its own comprehensive plan and create a zone for higher-density housing.

"We could have done 60 homes and been out of here a long time ago," Chamberlain said. "But we really wanted to show that it could be done."

A compromise trimmed the project to 288 homes. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Chamberlain acknowledged. His initial plan was just too big. But he won the option of building some extra units by agreeing to provide 10 affordable homes, through a deal that gives the town money to preserve open space.

Through the drawn-out process, Chamberlain has needed a big measure of financial patience. He invested about $1.6 million in the first phase, for instance, but slowly is starting to see the rewards.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Lynne Beal and her husband moved to a townhouse in Dunstan Crossing last year, after retiring here from Cape Elizabeth. She said that living in the condos, set amid single-family homes full of kids riding bikes, reminds her of her Bangor childhood.

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