Developers of The Downs in Scarborough said Wednesday they can’t proceed with plans to create a town center unless they are exempted from the town’s cap on residential building permits, but town councilors told them more details are needed first.

“Right now, you’re looking for certainty, but you’re giving us a lot of uncertainty,” Council Chairperson John Cloutier said at a workshop with the developers.

The proposed exemption from the town’s growth management ordinance would apply to a 90-acre portion, or 17%, of the massive mixed-use and multi-family housing project.

More information is needed before the exemption would be allowed, councilors said, including the expected pace of development and the number of dwellings.

“There’s just some basic information I don’t think we have,” Councilor Jonathan Anderson said.

But Rocco Risbara, Crossroads Holdings managing partner, and other developers of the former harness racing track said they can’t provide the details because they can’t make concrete plans without the assurance of an exemption.


“Prior to us even moving forward and spending the money to do that kind of a design, we need to know that we’d be allowed to do it,”  Risbara said. “We’re kind of a chicken and the egg.”

The growth ordinance is designed to avoid “rapid development of new residences” that could strain schools, transportation, public safety and other town resources. It allows 144 residential units to be built in Scarborough per year.

Developers are usually allotted up to 20% of those permits, but because The Downs is located in a “growth district,” Downs developers can receive up to 30% of those permits allowing them to build 43 residential units per year.

“Let the market drive the project,” Risbara said. “That’s what I’m asking for.”

“I want people to understand that this town has done almost everything right,” Risbara said. “But we’ve got this damn GMO that stops us from moving forward … The Downs needs this change.”

The developers stressed that The Downs is in compliance with the town’s comprehensive plan, which calls for a town center that is “a mixed-use and walkable area where people live, shop, work and play.” 


“This town has an ordinance to tell us how we have to develop this piece of land. We also have an ordinance that tells us we can’t,” Risbara said.

“We can deliver that town center and the amenities we’re eager for, and the community is eager for, through the exemption,” said Dan Bacon, development director of developer M&R Holdings LLC.

The developers are targeting specific types of units that won’t have a large impact on schools, Bacon said.

The exemption would also aid them in executing a state-required traffic improvement plan, he said.

Resident Noah Nygren told the council he opposes the exemption.

“Even 43 units within The Downs is 43 more than I want,” Nygren said. “We live in a town, not a city. Even while the town can’t stop growth, you do have the power to stand on the brake pedal.”


Richard Hayes of Martin Avenue said he is concerned an exemption now could lead to more down the line.

“It’s a request for 90 acres only,” Hayes said. “That’s today. What will they be back for next year or in two years? I think it’s wrong if you were to grant it. How do you then say no to anyone else’s requests that may come before you?”

Brian Shumway of Memory Lane, who was a member of the Downtown Development Committee, is in favor of the exemption.

“One of the things that we know is that it takes people to have a successful downtown,” Shumway said. “It takes people at a certain pace.”

He also argued that a benefit of developing at market pace is that it “will take pressure off other areas” of the town.

The council will be working with consultants at Levine Planning Strategies to evaluate the developers’ request and review tax increment financing and economic development in general, according to Cloutier.

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