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Scarborough development agency wants design standards enforced for Marden's

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Scarborough development agency wants design standards enforced for Marden's

SCARBOROUGH — The Scarborough Economic Development Corp. wants the Planning Board to uphold the town's design standards when the board considers an application from Marden's Surplus & Salvage to occupy the former Wal-Mart building on Payne Road.

There is added pressure on Scarborough, meanwhile, because Marden's is weighing the Payne Road project against another one in the state.

While town officials plan to remain firm on design requirements, Town Manager Tom Hall said Thursday that Scarborough may be able to reach an agreement that would allow Marden's the flexibility to open before the holiday season and phase in the improvements and upgrades that would be required by the design standards.

Directors of SEDCO, the town's quasi-governmental business development agency, expressed their opinion to the Planning Board in an Aug. 25 letter. Hall and Town Planner Dan Bacon received copies just hours before a scheduled meeting Wednesday with representatives of Marden's.

"... It is of the utmost importance that the high level of design that the Planning Board has demanded be maintained," the letter, signed by SEDCO President Harvey Rosenfeld, said. "It appears that the Planning Board that reviewed both the Gallery subdivision and the new Super Wal-Mart had that in mind when it added the requirement that prior to any reuse of the old facility, the applicant return to the Planning Board for review and that the building be upgraded to blend well with the Gallery design and meet previously agreed-upon traffic, access and landscaping improvements."

The SEDCO board took its position to ensure guidelines for Marden's are the same as for other businesses that have been required to conform to the town's design standards, Chairman Roger Beeley said. It's not a matter of singling out Marden's, but a matter of fairness, he said.

"We don't want to discourage Marden's from coming in, but want to make sure they're treated as any other business is treated," he said. "We would feel the same way no matter who was going in. That's a prominent building in a prominent location."

Hall and Bacon said they agree that any new occupant of the 119,000-square-foot building must meet the design guidelines to receive Planning Board approval. The decision to require the board's approval for any reuse or redevelopment of the building was made in 2005, when the board approved Wal-Mart's new building across the street in the Scarborough Gallery.

Changes that must be made include creating a right-turn lane from northbound Payne Road into Wal-Mart, a sidewalk that would connect with the Gallery sidewalk, and improvements to the access from Spring Street. In addition, the board in 2005 chose to require any new occupant of the building to carry over the architectural themes of the Gallery, including the use of exposed red brick, monument-type signs and the periodic interruption of the facade to create a more human scale, Bacon said last week.

Marden's General Manager Paul LePage recently said the company never builds new, but instead looks to purchase existing buildings and move in quickly without investing in renovations. He said Scarborough was "the first time ... in the history of the company" they'd ever been required to go before a planning board when acquiring a new building. Initially, he said, the store was planning on simply painting the exterior.

LePage confirmed Thursday that Wal-Mart has already repainted the exterior of the building.

Hall said there is precedent in holding existing buildings to new-construction design standards, citing the former Konica Minolta building and the Orion Center, both of which have had to obtain site plan approval from the Planning Board before being redeveloped.

But in Marden's case, the requirements could backfire.

Hall said they learned Wednesday from LePage that Marden's is deciding between two sites for its 15th store – the vacant Wal-Mart in Scarborough and a building in a community far outside greater Portland.

LePage would not confirm that, saying only that the company is "looking at multiple sites."

With Marden's desire to be open before the holidays, Hall said he's hoping the Planning Board might be able to work out a way for the store to phase in the design improvements, much as Sam's Club was able to expand and upgrade "due to creative phasing."

"I did have a new appreciation for some of their timing issues and motivations," Hall said. "To them, (opening in the) fourth quarter is essential."

LePage described the meeting with the town as informational and said he had to discuss the details with company decision-makers before he could talk publicly.

Hall said he believes Marden's representatives are still planning to meet with the Planning Board on Monday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.