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Council approves 2014 Town Center Plan, application for tax-increment financing district

The Town Council on Oct. 6, 2014 adopted an update to the Town Center Plan, and at the same meeting, agreed to create a tax-increment financing district for the town center.

The TIF district, if approved by the state, will direct new property tax revenue generated in the town center toward infrastructure within the town center, such as drainage and sidewalk improvements.

The approved plan was developed by a nine-member committee as an update to the original plan adopted in 1993. The overall vision expands on what was envisioned for the town center 20 years ago, but remains essentially the same:

To create an identifiable, vibrant town center that includes mixed retail uses for residents and visitors, a safe and inviting pedestrian and bicycle environment, a common meeting place, visual vitality, and linkages to the town’s open space and nearby residential neighborhoods.

The adopted plan includes seven recommendations, down from the 37 goals in the original plan. One of those recommendations is to create a town center TIF district.

The plan will serve as "a planning guide for land use in the Town Center zone," according to the motion unanimously approved by councilors Oct. 6.

Some of the five residents who spoke at a public hearing commented on how the plan was developed.

Cranbrook Drive resident Sara Lennon and Pearl Street resident Mary Townsend said the planning committee should have had broader community representation. Lennon went on to suggest that citizen committees should work without town staff or Town Council representatives. "I think what you might find is some really creative, fresh ideas, something in the end that is more reflective of the citizens ... and therefore would be more widely embraced when the final report comes out," Lennon said.

Townsend, who served for six months on the Town Center Plan Committee as a representative of the School Board, said she believed meetings should be taped or recorded for better public understanding, and that a more definitive policy should be developed for group email communication.

Missing from the approved plan is a controversial proposal that would have allowed wetland alterations for town-center development if the overall development included a public benefit such as a village green. Creating a town green is one of the plan's recommendations. Instead, the plan suggests that if a village green is created in the town center, the Planning Board should have flexibility in applying the 25-to-35-foot required front setback so that a building could frame a village green.

The recommendations of the Town Center Plan 2014 update are:

Pedestrian and vehicular circulation. Promote safe pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular circulation in the town center, with an emphasis on completing the sidewalk network throughout the Town Center and connecting to nearby neighborhoods.

  1. Improve and expand pedestrian and bicycle safety and connectivity of sidewalks and paths within the Town Center and to nearby neighborhoods.
  2. Recast Route 77 in the Town Center as Cape Elizabeth’s “main street.”

Primary Commercial Area. Support the Town Center as the primary location for new commercial development in Cape Elizabeth and encourage a modest amount of small-scale, mixed use development.

  1. Update the Town Center Stormwater Management Study and plan for construction of needed stormwater improvements.

Gathering Places. Create a town green and encourage small commercial establishments (such as coffee shops or restaurants) that provide opportunities for community members to come together.

  1. Consider creating a town green or common open space within the town center.

Visual Appeal. Improve the appearance and identity of the Town Center through continued application of the Town Center design standards to new development and formalizing the design standards for infrastructure improvements.

  1. Maintain the current design standards that promote a pedestrian-friendly town center and quality design that contributes to a sense of place.
  2. Formalize design standards for town center infrastructure, including but not limited to sidewalk width and surface materials, street trees, lighting fixtures, and seasonal promotional materials.

Infrastructure Financing. Further investigate, and if appropriate, implement alternative financing tools to fund town center infrastructure improvements in a manner that moderates fiscal impacts on other town priorities.

  1. Develop funding strategies, including but not limited to a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District for the Town Center, to fund infrastructure improvements.