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SCARBOROUGH — A plan to expand the Piper Shores retirement community met strong opposition from town officials Wednesday night.
In a joint workshop with the Town Council and Planning Board at the Municipal Building, five representatives from Piper Shores presented an application to amend their current contract zone for two possible phases of expansion onto conserved land near Higgins Beach.
Piper Shores Chief Executive Jim Adamowicz said the 13-year-old nonprofit community employs a staff of 200 and cares for 300 residents. Facilities include apartments, cottages, a 40-bed health center, and 20 assisted-living accommodations.
Adamowicz said Piper Shores is experiencing greater demand for assisted living, and for memory support services for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
He said the waiting list for independent living at Piper Shores is more than 85 parties long, or more than seven years.
Adamowicz said Piper Shores first wants to add 12 memory-care units and 16 apartments for assisted living.
Preliminary sketches showed the new wing encroaching only on the existing parking lot, an idea most councilors and Planning Board members supported. They also proposed adding more parking.
The next proposed phase, however, asked the council to consider developing independent living apartments, duplexes and single-family cottages on nearly 15 acres of undeveloped wetlands and wooded areas preserved in a conservation easement. The proposal outlines up to 52 units.
In order to build on the land, Piper Shores would have to take the land out of conservation, a process councilors and Planning Board members agreed would be lengthy, and perhaps unethical.
“I have no problems with Phase 1 at all, and I think it’s a testimony to the fact that what Piper Shores is doing is being done well,” Planning Board member Susan Auglis said.
But Phase 2, she said, is “a deal breaker.”
“We worked long and hard to get this thing done to provide this open space,” Auglis said.
Even if the Planning Board and council were to support it, she said, they would likely face legal challenges from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and “every conservation group in the state, and maybe New England.”
“I’m extremely concerned that we’re considering a precedent-setting breaking of a conservation easement,” Planning Board Chairman Allen Paul said. “This is not everyday. I don’t know of any instance here in this town that it’s been done … and it may not have been done within the state.”
The proposed expansions also would revise Piper Shores’ existing contract zone to increase the density beyond current allowances for surrounding neighborhoods.
“I do appreciate that we need these kind of facilities,” Paul said, “… (but) I think there are better places to do this within our current ordinances.”
Piper Shores representatives emphasized the plans are preliminary, and said they plan to hold a formal neighborhood meeting to hear public reaction.
In a tentative time-line for the first phase of expansion, they said Piper Shores will formally apply for the contract zone amendment sometime next month, and hopes to receive Town Council approval by November. If approved, the expansion of the existing building could begin next summer.
They outlined no time-line for the second, more controversial phase, or for taking land out of conservation, hoping only “to start a discussion as to what the nature of the plans” may be,” Adamowicz said.