SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council is examining simplifications or changes to the Scarborough Growth Management Ordinance and is interested in getting public input.

On April 7, councilors and members of the public discussed proposed changes to the ordinance, which could potentially change the way growth permits are distributed.

The town allots 135 growth permits per year in accordance with the current ordinance. Council Chair Paul Johnson said that the permits have already been exhausted for 2021.

Established in 2001, the ordinance’s intended purpose was to help manage large single-family housing, which was leading to school overcrowding and expansion as well as sprawling infrastructure, Dan Bacon, former Scarborough planning director and current director of Crossroads Holdings, said during public comments.

The ordinance has not updated with the town’s newer planning policies, he said.

Councilor John Cloutier said he and other councilors began working on a long-term changes to the ordinance.

“We started to draft some language we hoped would narrow the focus and get the ball rolling again in the direction of getting us out of this situation we’re in with no growth permits and real people being impacted, real money at stake for a lot of folks,” Cloutier said.

Simplifying the language is one of the main changes, he said.

“The current language of the GMO is complex, very hard to follow, very hard to understand,” Cloutier said. “Along with simplifying it, we wanted to tie the growth permit and building permit. That, I think, in itself eliminates some of the run on the house we’re seeing now. We wanted to cap the permits with any one related entity.”

The updated ordinance could distribute permits to larger scaled projects differently, he said.

“The issue is we have had a couple of major projects taking all of the growth permits, I think, in the past couple of years, and we saw that there might be other ways to handle how those other largescale projects get their permits,” Cloutier said. “We wanted to create a path forward for them while limiting the general pool of permits.”

A process called fractionalization, where permits are divided, complicates the ordinance, Cloutier said.

“Right now, we do fractionalization, where a one-bedroom unit counts as half a growth permit,” he said. “A two-bedroom counts as two-thirds of a growth permit — not even two-thirds, .66 of the growth permit — It’s complicated. So in order to get the one-to-one, one growth permit equals one dwelling unit, we had to make an adjustment somewhere, and when I looked at the data for this year and next year, it looked like a significant portion of the growth permits were being taken up by one-bedroom units. These are small units that we know don’t have a big impact on town resources or services. So they’re actually money-makers for the town. There’s not a legitimate reason to restrict them, so we incorporated that.”

He said directing more growth towards growth areas in town is efficient and protects rural Scarborough.

“I don’t think we’re under the impression that (the draft) is perfect,” Cloutier said. “We want to use the process to get to the best result we can, and that means give us some feedback. Let us know how we might be able to make it better. We’re going to have a public hearing on this.”

The ordinance serves to manage the pace of growth, Councilor Ken Johnson said.

When looking at the pace of growth for Scarborough, Councilor Jonathan Anderson said during council discussion that he would be interested in seeing if the town could change the number of growth permits allocated each year.

“I would rather us kind of really figure out, based on the plans for The Downs, based on the projects in the pipeline, based on what the community’s comfortable with, what’s that right pace?” he said. “When you look at the last four years, I think we’ve been averaging closer to 200 plus growth permits, and I think from what I’ve understood from the community, that’s too high. So the 135 is too low. The 200 plus is too high. Is there something in between that we can really look at to set an appropriate growth target that really reflects the need for the next three years?”

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said she has concerns about the town treating certain housing types differently from others.

Councilor Don Hamill would rather have the council focus on a few issues of the ordinance rather than trying to fix all of the concerns at once, he said.

During public comments, Alyssa Tibbetts, with law firm Jensen Baird on behalf of The Downs, said she cautions the council on approaching the ordinance with a reactive goal, attempting to slow or stop growth.

“The growth management ordinance shouldn’t be used as a means to prevent development that is otherwise permitted in your own land use ordinance and it shouldn’t ignore or effectively prevent those projects from being completed as approved,” she said. “It should consider how it could continue to support what you have already reviewed and approved.”

Councilors said they welcome  public feedback.

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