A draft plan for a revised growth management ordinance designed to better regulate the pace of development in Scarborough would set new limits on the number of residential units that could be built in a year.

Under the proposal, a maximum of 25 units could be built per year in rural, single-family zones, 300 units over three years in designated growth areas, and 450 over three years in The Downs district.

The draft plan was presented at a Town Council workshop Wednesday. Councilors overall were receptive to the plan, saying it was a step in the right direction, but most considered the proposed permit caps to be too high.

Scarborough has long been trying to find a balance between residential growth and its impact on schools, emergency services and already busy streets. Town Council Chairperson Jon Anderson and Councilor Nick McGee since September have been reviewing the town’s current growth management ordinance, or GMO, which sets the maximum number of residential building permits allocated each year.

The current GMO allows a maximum of 144 building permits per year. Developers are limited to 20%, or 28, of those permits unless their development is located within a growth district, in which case they can receive 30%, or 43, of those permits.

Affordable housing is exempt from the permit caps, and there is also an exemption process if a developer wants more permits than allocated in the GMO. The developers of The Downs project and the Town Council recently spent a whole year navigating that process, spurring the ordinance review.


Anderson and McGee, along with town staff, studied the town’s past residential development trends. In 2011, the town issued permits for 49 units, all of which were single-family homes. In 2022, it issued 306 permits, 225 of which were part of multi-family developments.

“I think it’s important to understand that not every unit is equal,” Anderson said. “A single-family home and a one-bedroom apartment, while they’re kind of being considered equal in count here, what they mean in terms of cost-to-serve and other things is not quite equal.”

The draft plan would split permit maximums into three areas. The first area, “Rural and Single-Family,” would be capped at 25 new units per year. In growth areas, 300 permits would become available every three years with a maximum of 20% consisting of three or more bedrooms. The Crossroads Planned Development District, where The Downs is being built, would have a pool of 450 permits every three years until the project is complete.

Councilor Karin Shupe said the number of units allowed in the proposal may be too high.

“I have a daughter who’s a teenager. I can’t get her into the teen programs and now my teenager is sitting at home,” Shupe said. “My son plays basketball – some of the basketball teams are practicing in cafeterias. We’re not keeping up with the pace of growth. We have a sixth grade that literally is in a building that provides zero special ed services, directly impacting me and that impacts every special ed child that goes through our school system.”

She also noted there are a number of job openings for town departments.


“We have departments that aren’t even fully staffed to currently support the population that we currently have,” she said.

Councilor John Cloutier said he generally agreed with the caps but was concerned that developers in designated growth areas would scoop up all of the permits at once.

“Then the council’s going to be in a position where, ‘Oh jeez, my niece just bought a lot, spent her life savings, and can’t build for four years,'” Cloutier said. “I think there need to be some safeguards.”

The revised GMO will be the focus of a Council Corner Live on March 2 before a final draft is prepared. The council will provide a preliminary vote on the final draft April 5, followed by an extended period for public feedback before a final vote in June.

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