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Walmart expansion likely as Falmouth councilors consider Route 1 business limits

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Walmart expansion likely as Falmouth councilors consider Route 1 business limits

FALMOUTH — Walmart's expansion into the Regal Cinemas space on Route 1 is looking like a sure thing after the Town Council reached consensus Monday that it will not oppose the plan.

"I would like to give a green light to Walmart so they can move forward," Council Chairman Tony Payne said. "It’s important that they have a clear sense of the council and how we feel on the issue."

While some councilors expressed interest in limiting the footprint of future buildings in the Route 1 business zone, nearly all of them spoke in favor of allowing existing businesses to expand.

The discussion came after the owners of the Falmouth Plaza shopping center announced a month ago that the theater would be closing and Walmart would expand.

The announcement came at the same time as the council's Community Development Committee began discussing possible limits on building footprints. The suggested limit of 75,000 square feet for a single-occupancy building would have prevented Walmart from expanding beyond its current footprint.

"This is not an anti-Walmart effort here," CDC Chairwoman Bonny Rodden said Monday evening. "We were doing this already, before Walmart even came up."

Councilor Faith Varney, who also sits on the CDC, agreed with Rodden.

Members of the CDC have asked business owners and residents to take a survey about possible limits on Route 1 building footprints in anticipation of a council vote on Jan. 24.

Theo Holtwijk, the town's director of long-range planning, said he has hand-delivered the surveys to approximately 80 percent of the businesses that would be affected by any ordinance changes, and that he hopes to reach them all before the CDC meets again next week. The town has distributed the survey via mail and e-mail, and it is also available on the town website.

The owners of Falmouth Plaza have said Walmart has signed a tentative lease for the Regal Cinemas space, contingent upon the council's decision.

"We have a signed lease with Walmart (for the space), but that lease is not effective until they have a legal right to occupy the space," plaza owner Ben Devine said.

Regal Cinemas has a lease until 2015.

"We have an agreement with Regal which would allow them to leave, would allow an early termination of the lease," Devine said. He would not provide details.

"We know they have every intention of leaving," he said.

Some councilors suggested Monday evening that Devine is pushing Regal out in favor of a better lease with Walmart.

"Do I wish the movie theater was staying? Yes. Do I wish the owners of building had more interest in the community? Yes I do," Councilor Teresa Pierce said. "But it’s their right, it’s the owner’s rights."

Councilor Will Armitage asked town staff to approach Regal to see if the empty, former Shaw's supermarket space at the Falmouth Shopping Center, further north on Route 1, might be a good venue for a new stadium-style theater.

"This is a perfect opportunity for the town to be proactive, to work with that company to find a location here in Falmouth to retain that business," Armitage said.

Devine said he had already approached Regal about that opportunity.

"(The former Shaw's) was the first thing I thought of," Devine said. "But the economics of it, they don't like to take over existing spaces."

Regal Cinemas officials did not respond to several requests for comment.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net