Nearly 500 housing units have already been constructed at The Downs. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

The Downs development is meeting and exceeding Scarborough’s expectations, town officials said this week, while acknowledging residents’ concerns about the pace of growth, increased traffic and the impact on their taxes.

While some residents have been less than thrilled with the 524-acre project, it is delivering on a vision of a downtown set and upheld by the town and its residents over the past 16 years, they said.

“What has always been remarkable to me is that The Downs project, it wasn’t (the developers’)  idea,” said Town Manager Tom Hall. “This concept was in the 2006 comprehensive plan, it was reaffirmed in the 2021 update, and the zone has been in place for about 14 years, long before they were ever on the scene.”

Dan Bacon, development director of contractor M&R Holdings, said the town’s comprehensive plan, which includes a mixed-use town center, is the developers’ “guiding principle.”

“We’re developing in the town’s growth area and we’re developing in accordance with the zoning that’s in place,” Bacon said.

But at Town Council and other meetings about the project, residents often take issue with the development. Some worry about its impact on an already overcrowded school district and are wary of future property tax hikes to pay for the bigger demand on the town’s emergency services. Others are unhappy with the increase in traffic in town or the tax breaks the developers receive. Residents responding to a survey last year said they’re concerned about the pace of growth, with the town’s population going from 18,919 in 2010 to an estimated 23,318 in 2022, according to U.S. Census data.


Negative perceptions around the 524-acre development could exist in large part because the promised townwide benefits and amenities aren’t tangible yet, town officials say, but that should change soon. The Downs is scheduled to break ground on the first phase of the downtown portion of the project in a few weeks.

“In this next phase, I think there are going to be more tangible amenities that people will come to use, or at least have available to them if they want to use them,” said Town Council Chairperson Jon Anderson. “That will, hopefully, make them feel and look at the development in a different way.”

Bacon said the downtown portion is likely “where it becomes more real for the community.”

“We have some housing that meets town goals, we have some businesses and light industrial, but they haven’t yet been destinations, probably, for a lot of town residents,” he said. “I think with the town center, the project becomes more relevant and becomes more of a town amenity.”


Residents have benefited already from The Downs, however.


The Downs generated $178.5 million in value over the past five years. Scarborough has reimbursed developers $2.6 million in taxes since a credit enhancement agreement, or CEA, was signed in 2018, but the town has retained $3.9 million in Downs taxes. If the taxable value generated by The Downs didn’t exist, taxpayers would have seen their property taxes go up an additional 1.7% over the past five years, the town estimates.

Property taxes in Scarborough would be 1.7% higher than they are currently without the taxes they’ve retained from The Downs, the town estimates. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Increased property values within The Downs are sheltered from the state, meaning they don’t count toward the town’s overall property valuation and won’t impact what the town receives from the state for schools and other services.

Through commercial and industrial development, The Downs has helped shift the portion of taxes coming from non-residential property owners to just over 25%, a benchmark that has been long sought by the town, Hall said. The Downs has also already generated more non-residential growth and more affordable housing than they agreed to.

The Downs will also pay about $12 million of a $16 million town traffic improvement plan, which has begun to take shape. This summer, $346,750 in new traffic lights, funded by The Downs’ and other developments’ impact fees, were installed along a portion of Route 1. The lights adapt to the flow of traffic and more will be added to replace existing traffic lights along the Route 1 corridor. The Downs has also expanded the capacity of Payne Road and Haigis Parkway, with the ultimate goal of addressing traffic congestion and improving safety at 37 intersections.

“The traffic improvements are actively underway,” Hall said. “Unfortunately, they do lag behind development a little bit. They’re thoughtful but, practically speaking, they’re spread out over a series of years and it’s still to be seen what positive impact all of those improvements will have when fully built.”

Hall and Anderson also emphasized that not all of the increased traffic residents have felt in recent years can be attributed to The Downs.


Costco is scheduled to open Nov. 17 at The Downs. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

“People are growing around Scarborough, too,” Anderson said. “Sitting at that light may not be because somebody is going to The Downs. It could be because a Biddeford resident is traveling from Portland to Biddeford on Route 1, and they’re growing rapidly as well.”

“The Downs project is probably the poster child,” Hall said. “It’s happening at a higher pace, it’s happening at a density and concentration that’s very visible as opposed to more spread out, so I think some folks think about The Downs as the culprit or ‘what’s wrong,’ whereas there’s a lot of other growth going on” in and out of town.


As of April 1, 75 single-family homes, 158 condos, 234 apartments and 12 assisted living units have been completed at The Downs, a total of 479 units. Another five single-family homes, eight condos and 45 apartments were under construction as of that date. When all 537 units are filled, the town estimates they will house 943 people. Developers originally expected to have a population of 1,016 across 566 units at this point.

As of Sept. 12, there are 47 students living at The Downs,  32 of them in single-family homes, seven in apartments and eight in condos.

The Innovation District at The Downs contains roughly 60 businesses and Costco is set to open in November.


The first phase of the downtown portion of the project, breaking ground next month, will develop a third entry point into The Downs off Haigis Parkway along with three buildings. Allagash Brewing Co. will open a tasting room in the first building, the second is designated for a restaurant or coffee shop and the third will provide commercial space on the first floor and offices on the second and third floors.

The non-profit 3i HoME has also proposed a 51-unit housing development for people with disabilities for the downtown section.

Hall and Anderson said the growth in town can be beneficial – but the pace and location matter.

“It’s really about how well we’re managing the growth and the impacts of growth,” Anderson said. “If we do it well, which I think we are doing pretty well today, everybody’s going to benefit, ultimately.”

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