May 16, 2013

Plan reignites hopes for Scarborough racino

A proposal for the land around the Scarborough Downs racetrack requests customized zoning.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH – The owners of Scarborough Downs hope that new zoning proposed for their 500-acre property will help their efforts to bring slot machines to the racetrack.

click image to enlarge

Scarborough Downs nestles in a 500-acre parcel for which a village-type development has been proposed. The racetrack’s owners are hoping the project will reopen the possibility of a racino.

2010 Press Herald file

The Crossroads District, presented to the Town Council on Wednesday night, calls for a village-type development with a mix of residential, commercial and office buildings connected by a network of tree-lined streets.

As proposed, it would also permit a racino, if approved by local and state voters, said Town Planner Dan Bacon.

The current zoning allows only commercial development and prohibits slot machines.

The last time Scarborough voters were asked to allow a racino at Scarborough Downs, they were also asked to approve a zoning change, said Ed MacColl, the attorney for the racetrack's owners.

He said that made the referendum confusing and contributed to the narrow defeat of the proposal in 2008.

Scarborough Downs has no specific plan to try to get a question about a racino on the ballot again, said MacColl. "We need to see how this (rezoning) process goes."

The town's Long Range Planning Committee has been working on the concepts behind the Crossroads District for more than a year, Bacon said.

Hotels, restaurants, long-term care facilities, government buildings and golf courses would be allowed, among many other uses.

Bacon told the council Wednesday that it would be "perhaps the broadest zone in town in terms of the range of uses that can occur."

The purpose, he said, is to allow developers to be creative and work with the Planning Board to make their own rules about setbacks and lot sizes to fit their plans, while complying with the concepts of mixed use, interconnectivity and community space.

The council voted to refer the proposal to the Planning Board.

Representatives of Scarborough Downs worked with town officials to develop the zoning and asked for language that would permit a racino with voters' approval.

That will likely be the biggest talking point as councilors and Planning Board members discuss the proposal, said Andrew Ingalls, a broker for CBRE The Boulos Co., representing Scarborough Downs.

About 400 acres surrounding the racetrack has been on the market since 2010, at an asking price of $12.2 million.

Around the time that the land went up for sale, the racetrack's owners considered moving the operation to Biddeford. Voters in that city approved allowing a racino, but the initiative was rejected in a statewide vote in 2011.

The last time Scarborough voters considered a racino, the track's owners and the developer behind the nearby Cabela's store proposed a town center with stores and offices near the track, if the town allowed slot machines.

Although voters rejected the proposal 51 percent to 49 percent, the margin was much smaller than in the previous vote: In 2003, voters statewide approved a ballot question that allowed slot machines at or near harness racing tracks, but Scarborough voters rejected it for their town, 56 percent to 44 percent.

MacColl said the rezoning process will help Scarborough Downs gauge residents' interest in having a racino.

He said the option of moving to Biddeford is still being considered. "We couldn't stay here if we're not wanted."


Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:


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