FALMOUTH — The Town Council Monday said there’s a lot to like in the draft contract zone for a large residential and commercial development off Route 100 in West Falmouth.
But there are also still details that need to be worked out, and before the contract zone receives final approval there will have to be further refining of the concept, councilors said.
The draft proposal now goes to the Planning Board for its review and recommendations on March 6.
The council would then take public comment on the development at its March 12 meeting, and schedule a formal public hearing for March 26.
Developer David Chase’s plans have evolved from his original proposal, but he’s still asking for permission to build more than 150 residential units on a 52-acre parcel bound by Mountain Road, Route 100 and the Maine Turnpike.
The development would include a mix of single-family and multifamily units, as well as at least one three-story commercial building that could also including housing.
To qualify for a contract zone, a developer must show that their project fits in with the Comprehensive Plan and the underlying zoning, along with providing a public benefit that otherwise would not exist.
The West Falmouth project is the first to be considered under Falmouth’s relatively new contract zoning rules, which is why councilors said they want to take their time and allow as much public comment as possible.
Even so, no public comment was allowed Monday, because councilors wanted to work through the elements included in the contract on their own to make sure they understood them all.
Resident John Winslow said afterward that not allowing public comment during so-called “special meeting” was tantamount to suppression of public opinion.
In an email sent to councilors and The Forecaster on Tuesday, Winslow said, “It is difficult to have public involvement with the lack of information and when one does ask a question they are suppressed.”
Winslow, who is a critic of the contract zone proposal, said he attended the council meeting because he had questions including why “some critical information” was not posted on the town website before the meeting started.
Winslow said the latest draft of the contract zone was not made available to either the public or councilors until about four hours before the meeting.
“This town doesn’t keep the public informed,” he said, adding “it’s puzzling to me” how the council could take up a document it hadn’t had time to fully review prior to the start of the meeting.
In an email response to Winslow, Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said Tuesday, “I … do not agree with your general assessment that there is a lack of information or opportunity for public comment. We go to great lengths to involve the public.”
And, during Monday’s council meeting, Town Manager Nathan Poore and Matthew Ek, Chase’s consultant on the development, both said there had been a lot of back and forth in the last week or so between the town and the developer.
“We’ve been working on fine-tuning the proposal and tweaking the language,” Ek, from Sebago Technics, told councilors.
And in a memo to the council, Poore said, “Staff is familiar with the packet of information and has worked closely with the developer during the past couple of weeks.”
Chase has argued, since first introducing the West Falmouth project last spring, that it conforms to the Comprehensive Plan because it would provide a variety of housing types in a part of town that’s been identified as a growth area.
The housing units offered would include what he’s termed entry-level homes – units that would have a starting sales price of about $280,000 – as well as units set aside for those 55 and over.
Public benefits would include a public park with a playground that would be deeded over to the town, as well as several more passive recreation open spaces and walking trails, that would have easements allowing public access.
Chase is requesting a contract zone because there are several dimensional requirements in the village mixed use zone that he would like modified for his project. Those changes include lot sizes, setbacks and street design.
In exchange, Chase has agreed to pay an impact fee of $1,300 per unit, as well as a $2,000 wastewater connection fee, and he’s also promised to work closely with Summit Natural Gas of Maine in an attempt to bring natural gas down Route 100 to his project.
While the council and other town committees have generally been in favor of the contract zone proposal, many members of the public have turned out over the last year to argue that it’s simply too big and would have too much of a negative impact on town services.
Developer David Chase has said his large West Falmouth development would be built in three phases, as outlined here.