The Scarborough Town Council approved changes to the town’s growth ordinance to allow for more building permits despite calls from some residents to wait a little longer.

“There’s been plenty of opportunity for public input,” Councilor Ken Johnson said before the council’s 6-1 vote Wednesday.

The growth management ordinance was established in 2001. Councilor John Cloutier said curbing growth made sense at the time. Today, the town wants to encourage growth in some areas, such as the Downs property, where development could be hindered  by the ordinance the way it was written 20 years ago.

“Things could come to a screeching halt in a hurry if we didn’t do anything,” Cloutier said.

Officials had been discussing amending the ordinance for more than a year, but Town Manager Tom Hall said it became more urgent in late 2020. The original ordinance set a cap of 135 building permits per year, and by November 2020, he said, the town had issued all of them. This year, he said, the town ran out of permits before the end of January, and today there is a waiting list for more than 80 more.

“That’s never happened before,” he said.

The purpose of the amendments, however, is not to simply raise the cap on permits.

“With this much demand, every square inch in Scarborough would be subdivided,” he said.

The amendments, Cloutier said, essentially encourage building in what he called the “core” areas, namely the town’s Dunstan and Oak Hill neighborhoods, along with the Downs property and a short corridor connecting the areas. Outside of those areas, he said, there will be cap of 30 home permits a year. That way, he said, the town will retain its rural character throughout most of the community.

Spelling out exactly how many permits the amendments allow in those core areas is difficult, as the numbers appear to vary based on types of construction and a series of exemptions included in the amendments, but Cloutier said the overall long-term goal is for 114 permits per year in those areas.

The lack of specificity about the core permits led some residents to protest the council’s plan to approve the changes at Wednesday’s meeting. Some complained that the public wasn’t given enough time to understand the long-term implications of the amendments, such as impacts on traffic or municipal services.

“It’s not an annual document like the school budget or the town budget,” said Elizabeth Von Stade, a Ferry Road resident. “It’s got to be built to last, and that means taking the time to get it right, right now, and to allow the public to understand what it means for Scarborough.”

Alyson Bristol, of Bayview Avenue, also said she wanted more time to understand the changes.

“It’s really hard for the public to form an opinion,” she said.

Councilors, in response, said they have spent months discussing the issue in open meetings and workshops.

“Another two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, is it really going to move the needle that much in a favorable direction? No,” said Councilor Don Hamill.

Councilor, Betsy Gleysteen appeared to side with the residents, saying the “real meat” of the discussions on the amendments didn’t get started until January.

“I have not been happy and still am not happy with the process,” she said.

Gleysteen moved to delay the final vote on the amendments until May 19, but that motion was voted down 5-2, with Councilor Jonathan Anderson voting with Gleysteen.

The council then voted 6-1 to accept the changes, with Gleysteen being the sole dissenting vote.

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