This rendering envisions Waterstone Properties Group’s proposal for a mixed-use urban development called “Rock Row” on the 26-acre former Pike Industries quarry site in Westbrook. The developer said last year that Market Basket would anchor the retail portion of the venture.
Artist’s rendering courtesy of Wakefield Beasley Associates
The developer of a shopping center near the Portland-Westbrook line wants to add 750 apartments to the plan, which would make it one of the largest residential projects in the region.
The Westbrook Planning Board approved an application two years ago for a 500,000-square-foot retail plaza on vacant land surrounding the former Pike Industries quarry. Now, the Massachusetts-based developer that took over the project and secured the grocery store Market Basket as its anchor tenant is preparing to submit an even more ambitious plan: 1 million square feet of new housing and commercial space.
Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, said the project reflects a national trend toward urban living, where housing and businesses are integrated.
“We haven’t really seen this type of development here in the Portland area, but I think around the country, this is the trend,” Vitalius said. “It’s not all houses in one area and all commercial in another.”
Waterstone Properties Group has not submitted updated plans to the city, but it recently issued a news release with new details and renderings that depict two- to five-story buildings clustered around a plaza-like space with trees and grass. A call to the company was not returned Wednesday. A spokeswoman said via email that no one was available to speak about the project, but that Waterstone would be collaborating with local and state governments.
Westbrook City Planner Jennie Franceschi said she expects to meet with the developer next week to talk about the revised project. The Planning Board will need to approve the changes, but it’s unclear when the board will hold its first workshop with Waterstone.
“To put high-density residential next to commercial uses and services provides 24-hour usage of the property that a traditional plaza doesn’t get,” Franceschi said. “To have that sort of vitality on a site continually, all year long, all day long, is exciting.”
PUSHBACK ON BIG HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS
But housing developments with hundreds of units have faced pushback in recent years in Westbrook and Portland.
The original Midtown proposal in Portland would have built up to 850 apartments in the Bayside neighborhood. It was delayed for years because of local opposition and a lawsuit, and even though a scaled-down version won city approvals three years ago, the project appears to be dead.
In Westbrook, plans for 500 single-family homes and apartments inspired calls for a moratorium on new residential construction in 2016.
The developer’s news release suggests that the apartments would be built over several years, with the first 250 opening in 2020. They would range from studios to three-bedroom units, but the company has not said what the rental rates would be.
Vitalius said communities like Westbrook have been absorbing new units in recent years, but rents in Portland appear to be leveling off. He cautioned that Waterstone should be watchful of the market and open the units in phases.
“It’s recognized that we need more housing in the area, and we need affordable housing in the area, and the local landlords fully support that concept,” he said. “But any community can be challenged if there is a glut of housing. Any type of oversupply will throw the market into imbalance and hurt everybody.”
Waterstone Properties Group Inc. proposes an ambitious mixed-use urban development in Westbrook that would feature 450,000 square feet of retail space, including a 25,000-square-foot brewery and food hall curated by Colicchio Group of New York. Artist’s rendering courtesy of Wakefield Beasley & Associates
MORE LIKE ‘DOWNTOWN’ THAN ‘A STRIP MALL’
Repurposing the quarry and the land surrounding it has been in the works for years.
The 100-acre site is near the intersection of Main Street and Larrabee Road, between two Maine Turnpike exits and close to the Portland-Westbrook border. Across Main Street is another shopping center anchored by Kohl’s.
The original developer, Jeffrey Gove, first submitted plans in Westbrook in 2015. He proposed 500,000 square feet of retail space, including a 148,000-square-foot “wholesale club.” Rumors swirled about Market Basket and the warehouse retailer Costco, and residents objected when Walmart was announced as the tenant. The Planning Board approved the project in October 2016.
Gove then sold the project to Waterstone. The new owner has been quiet about its plans other than to announce in November that Market Basket would replace Walmart as an anchor. Waterstone has not shared a blueprint or submitted one to the city, so it is unclear what the new layout of the site would be. The recent news release was the first mention of a major change in the project, which is now being called “Rock Row.”
In addition to the apartments, the development would include a 25,000-square-foot brewery and food hall curated by the New York-based Colicchio Group. About one quarter of the 400,000 square feet of offices would be a medical and wellness campus. Another 450,000 square feet would be retail, including a movie theater and concert venue. As originally planned, the 26-acre quarry itself would become a water feature, and the development would have paths connecting to nearby trail networks. The renderings depict a bustling town center, and one even includes a small lighthouse.
“The way the renderings look, it makes it feel more like a downtown versus it being more of a strip mall,” Franceschi said.
ZONING ALLOWS HIGH-DENSITY RESIDENTIAL
Without official plans in hand, Franceschi could not yet say whether they are exactly in line with the zoning for the site. The first version of the project did not include housing, but the area allows high-density residential development. The city code allows for buildings up to 50 feet high, or four stories. To double the square footage as proposed, the developer would likely need to build up, and the renderings do show buildings with as many as five stories.
As part of its initial permits, Waterstone was required to make between $9 million and $10 million in public infrastructure improvements, including at two nearby Interstate 95 interchanges. The Westbrook City Council approved a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district, earlier this year to help the company pay for those projects. For the next 25 years, 50 percent of the taxes paid on new assessed value at Rock Row will go toward these improvements. The city has estimated that rebate could be $600,000 annually by 2021.
Work on those improvements already has begun, and Franceschi said it is too early to say whether the new plans would trigger others.
“I don’t think anything really is a red flag at this time,” she said. “Once they finally provide us with a complete proposal of the uses and the layout, we’ll be able to get a better look.”
Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: