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Falmouth plans forum to discuss Route 1 shopping center, development

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Falmouth plans forum to discuss Route 1 shopping center, development

FALMOUTH — Residents are invited to a community forum Nov. 14 to discuss their vision and ideas for development of the Falmouth Shopping Center property along Route 1.

The 5 1/2-hour charette will consist of polling and small-group discussion, and will include presentations by town officials, shopping center representatives and a consultant.

"We're trying to give people an idea of what possibilities are out there for shopping center development," Town Councilor Bonny Rodden, the Community Development Committee chairwoman, said.

Rodden said there are few, if any, examples in Maine of local shopping centers that are not just strip malls, so part of the presentation will show examples of mixed-use shopping areas across the country. Some of the examples contain a village square or open space, a street grid within the development and a combination of restaurants, hotels, stores, office space and housing, she said.

The shopping center sits on one of four parcels totalling 61 acres that owners would like to develop, according to Theo Holtwijk, the town's director of long-range planning. The existing buildings and pavement occupy about half of the total acreage. In total the assessed value of the property and structures is nearly $23.5 million.

The property lies in two different zones. The shopping center is in the Suburban Business 1 zone, but the bulk of the undeveloped property sits in the Business Professional zone, which focuses primarily on office uses. In order to build a mixed-use development that includes retail and housing, the property would have to be rezoned.

A 2005 Route 1 corridor study commissioned by the town recommended creating a new, Village Center 1 zone that would include all four of the parcels in question, Rodden said via e-mail. That study recommended restricting the upper end of building size to between 60,000 and 90,000 square feet, she said.

As the SB1 zoning stands now, there is no footprint restriction, Holtwijk said, which is something councilors may want to change. But they will be looking for input from residents during the charette.

When the property owners looked at development last year, their representative, Andrew Gilmore, said there would need to be a "big-box" anchor store to make the project economically viable. When asked Tuesday if that would still be required, Gilmore said not necessarily.

"There are still a lot of unknowns in the market," he said, "but the rulebook has definitely changed."

He added that when "big boxes" are discussed, often it's the philosophy or business model of a particular retailer that people have a problem with, and not all large stores. He pointed to the "big-box" stores Falmouth already has in the area – Wal-Mart, Staples and Shaw's – as examples.

"We need to know what type of limitations will be placed on single-tenant square footage," he said.

When asked if the current economic climate is conducive to expansion plans, especially with vacancies in existing buildings, Gilmore said "it's a perfect time to be planning because we're starting to see upturns in the economy," and added they would address the vacancies as part of their presentation.

Asked about timing, Gilmore said he expects that by spring his clients will be looking to develop a master plan.

Another consideration that will be explored is the possibility of the town acquiring the Maine Turnpike Route 1 connector ramp, which would free an additional 12 acres of land for development. Though Holtwijk said they hadn't yet explored the cost or the feasibility, they will be asking residents their thoughts on having the cloverleaf exit replaced by an at-grade intersection with Route 1.

Of particular concern is how best to protect, and possibly incorporate into the design, portions of the streams that run through the property.

"It's a real jewel of open space in the eastern part of town and I feel very strongly we need to protect that in every way we can, but at the same time make the most out of this economic opportunity," Rodden said. 

Cost of the charette is being borne primarily by the property owners. They have paid the $10,000 for the consultant selected by the town and are paying half of the $3,000 expense for electronic keypads.

Once the results of the charette are compiled, a report will be issued by the consultant and will be available to the public.

"The expansion of the Falmouth Shopping Center is the ultimate economic development project; that's what makes it so enticing," Rodden said.

The charette is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 14, in the Mason Gymnasium at Plummer-Motz School. Lunch will be available during the event and no preregistration is required. For more information or to watch a video about the charette, visit the town Web site.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.