(Editor's Note: The Westbrook City Council hosts a public hearing devoted to the proposed Stroudwater Place development tonight at 7p, while also voting on an amendment to the City's comprehensive plan and a contract zone proposed by the developers. Westbrook resident and urban planner Laura Burden writes why the City Council should approve the Comprehensive Plan amendment and the contract zone.)
I am particularly excited by this proposed development. It plans to:
- Create 1,200-1,400 construction jobs and an additional 5-6,000 permanent jobs.
- Generate $3-5 million in annual property taxes for Westbrook.
- Make Westbrook a premier destination for travelers and businesses, while providing a gathering place for the community.
Sandwiched between Stroudwater Street and the Westbrook Arterial, the project proposes a quality mix of retail, office, and public space that makes sense. It’s backed by solid market research showing that this type of place brings business and customers. This type of project will generate business for the local economy. It is unlike anything we have had before, and it has something for all ages in all seasons. Moreover, this project is environmentally-sound, has an appropriate density and height, includes a great mix of uses (including premier retail), plans to utilize multi-modal transportation, and has beautiful central open spaces for community gathering. Put simply, it’s a planner's dream, especially since the developers ask nothing from the City but a zone change, while bringing 5-6,000 permanent jobs, 1,200-1,400 construction jobs, and $3-5 million in annual tax revenue.
Just imagine what the City can do with the tax revenue! Earmarking even a small percentage would allow for the purchase of open space, ball fields, river docks, and countless amenities. The more density the City allows, and the lower landscape factor, the more money the City gets. Moreover, this development is also unique in that is asks for no tax break from the City (no TIF).
As a planner, I can also tell you that this project idea will make Westbrook infinitely more attractive to future customers, potential residents, tourists, and new businesses. So it isn’t just the immediate jobs that this development will create, but also what will be created because of it. The development team isn’t seeking to overbuild and squeeze the life out of the beautiful site, but rather build so people will have a distinctive pleasurable experience. We could have attractive retail and office space, different types of recreation, central public plazas, a farmers' market, and parade grounds. Where in Westbrook is suitable for large outdoor events? Riverbank Park is beautiful, but not very large. Grassy parade grounds along Stroudwater Street that we could also park on for special events would add a dimension to the town that we don’t have.
Jason Snyder, a Westbrook native, is proposing this development. He has assembled a team of professionals, many from Maine, who have put together a carefully considered proposal for his land and our city. The design team has 35 years of experience creating this type of successful mixed-use marketplace. And Mr. Snyder has demonstrated his concern for the area by turning down several proposals from businesses less desirable for Westbrook. Instead, he seeks to add some economic muscle to his hometown. And given the economy, what better time to do so?
Finally, don’t forget how unusual this project is: It is owned by the developer, financed privately--even in this market--and would be located next to an awaiting highway exit and close to other retail zones. It would allow development on private property, which would instantly become a public amenity. And though this parcel is currently zoned for high-density office space, there is too much vacant office space on the market. So this project seeks to build less intensively on the site, but with a range of amenities that we can all enjoy. This project adds to our City significantly, uses sound environmental principles, great design, and will give us jobs and taxes.
The public hearing for this project is tonight at 7 PM in Westbrook High School, Room #114. Please come out and let your voice be heard: Support Stroudwater Place.
Westbrook can grow and can grow smart. So let's say "Yes!"
- Laura Burden