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UPDATE (w/ design image): First major development coming to Scarborough's Haigis Parkway

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Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012 3:00 am | Updated: 1:41 pm, Thu May 3, 2012.

SCARBOROUGH – Almost 20 years after it was built, Scarborough’s Haigis Parkway is poised to get its first major development.

Horizon Solutions, a distributor of electrical and mechanical equipment that also offers training and has an energy-savings consultation service, plans to build a 15,400-square-foot office and warehouse on an 2.8-acre lot located on the west side of Haigis, near Route 1.

According to Horizon’s vice president of marketing, Chuck Boyle, the Scarborough location will become the “technology hub” for the company, which has eight locations in four northeastern states, including two in Maine. It also will house Horizon’s southern Maine sales team, “much of the back-office staff” and serve as a training facility for Horizon customers. Once construction is complete, about 30 employees will relocate from Horizon’s site on Portland’s Riverside Industrial Parkway, said Boyle.

“We have been experiencing strong growth in the Maine marketplace and, with recent additions to our local sales staff, are in need of an updated facility,” said Horizon’s president and CEO, Jim Newton. “We chose this site because of the convenient location and access for employees, customers and visitors. The neighborhood provides a nice surrounding for our team and there is good infrastructure for our company-wide data center that will be housed here.”

That was the logic in 1995 when the town built Haigis Parkway as a “gateway” linking a new Interstate 95 exit to Route 1.The corridor was zoned for “campus-style” development, with town leaders envisioning major complexes housing Fortune 500 companies.

Even after development failed to materialize, a September 2001 study still predicted that within 20 years, the 308-acre Haigis Parkway Economic Development Zone would be home to 29 businesses employing 2,600 people in 1.1 million square feet of building space.

By 2004, with still no takers, the town decided it could kick-start development with a $10 million utility upgrade. All that brought were lawsuits from property owners who felt over-assessed by the town’s attempt to pay for the build-out.

Then the recession hit, and it seemed like Haigis would remain a road to nowhere.

Eventually, the town accepted that zoning rules were as much to blame as any other factor for the lack of construction interest. At a special meeting Jan. 25, planners conferred with the 15 landowners within the Haigis Parkway zoning district to solicit input on plans to relax rules on allowable development. Gone was the vision of “campus-style” construction, limited to professional offices, convention centers, hotels and high-tech industry. In its place: health clubs, entertainment centers, multi-family housing, assisted-living facilities and, in the section between Payne Road and the turnpike, gas stations and large-scale retail stores.

The landowners were, in a word, overjoyed.

“It was nice at the time for us to have all of these grand ideas,” Linwood Higgins, who owns 74 acres at the Route 1 end of Haigis Parkway, including the land on which Horizon will build, said at the time. “I think we all envisioned that the world was going to continue building these mega-buildings and someday Apple and Google would have their corporate headquarters here in Scarborough.

“It’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen,” said Higgins. “We can’t continue to have this area zoned for a home run. We’ve got to set realistic guidelines for development in this area given the current economic condition.”

On Wednesday, after The Current’s deadline, the Town Council was scheduled to vote on two zoning changes that will allow the Horizon development to take place. These amendments, said Town Planner Dan Bacon, are just the first of several suggestions approved by Scarborough’s Long-Range Planning Committee, which councilors will see “by the end of June.”

One change would reduce the setback between buildings in the Haigis Parkway zone and abutting residential areas in half, from 100 feet to 50. The other would give the Planning Board greater flexibility to approve parking lots placed between new buildings and the parkway.

The Planning Board unanimously signed off on those changes at its April 23 meeting.

Bacon explained that the setback would allow Horizon to make full use of its lot. The impact to neighboring residential areas should be minimal, he said, because there is little development in the hilly area of the Scottow Hill neighborhood, near the proposed building site. Any homes that are built in that area would be uphill from the complex, said Bacon. Meanwhile, for lots further up Haigis, toward Payne Road, there are wetlands between the zones that would naturally separate residential and commercial construction, despite reduced setbacks.

By giving on the parking lot requirement, Horizon will have room to expand its new building in the future from the rear, leaving the “New England-style” façade, to feature “stone under clapboard,” untouched.

“Not allowing parking in front of buildings was intended to have the buildings be the primary visual item from the road,” said Bacon. “That works on a number of properties, but it doesn’t work for others, depending on lot shape and land type.

“We can still encourage parking to the side, or rear, but this change allows the Planning Board to be more flexible in approving some amount of front-yard parking,” said Bacon.

A third change put before the council, though not directly related to Horizon’s 50-space lot, would let two buildings share a single parking area. Strictly verboten under the original zoning scheme, it becomes necessary both to encourage development by lowering construction costs and because the Horizon lot is part of a planned subdivision whose approval has expired.

Because of how those lots were laid out, Horizon will end up sharing its entrance onto Haigis with whatever buildings go up behind it. The shared-parking structure simply makes any future construction more cost effective, said Bacon.

Planning Board member Cory Fellow said he was “not wild” about the front parking, especially given Horizon’s initial sketch plan, which makes the loading dock, where “at least one tractor-trailer” is expected per day, visible from the parkway.

However, Fellow’s peers were more enthusiastic. Ronald Mazer called any development on Haigis “long, long overdue,” while John Chamberlain said of Horizon’s proposal, “I think it has all the elements for an ideal layout. I think that’s is going to be an excellent project.”

According to Lee Allen, of Northeast Civil Solutions, the development is on the fast track.

“It is our plan to submit this project for full review as soon as these [zoning] amendments are approved by the Town Council,” he said.

Welcome to the discussion.