Divided Falmouth Planning Board backs zoning changes sought by sports pub

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FALMOUTH — The Planning Board on Tuesday night narrowly recommended zoning amendments to the Town Council that would allow construction of a proposed sports pub near Tidewater Village.

The vote was 3-2 to recommend the council approve amendments to the Tidewater Design Guidelines and Tidewater Master Plan Development District to develop the Rivalries restaurant and bar at Farm Gate Road and Clearwater Drive.

Board Chairman Jay Chace, and members William Benzing and Chris Hickey voted for the recommendation; members Rudy Israel and Thomas McKeon were opposed.

The proposal now returns to the Town Council on March 9 for a decision on whether to adopt the proposed amendments. They include changing the zoning from commercial to restaurant and outdoor dining, excluding the basement when considering the footprint of the building, and reorienting the front of the restaurant to Hat Trick Drive.

The project would then come back to the Planning Board at a later date for a site plan review.

As in earlier Town Council meetings, opinion was divided in a public hearing preceding the board’s vote.

Members of the Tidewater Farm Homeowners Association have been the most vocal opponents of Portland-based Rivalries building on the lot adjacent to their mixed-use neighborhood, routinely saying they are not against the business or development, but are opposed to the selected location.

At this hearing, the association brought in help from Maine Traffic Resources, a Gardiner-based engineering firm, to show traffic from the restaurant would have adverse effects on the neighborhood.

Diane Morabito, president of MTR, said an 8,000-square-foot commercial office building would generate 88 trips on a weekday, compared to nearly 1,200 weekday trips for a restaurant. The office building would generate 22 trips on a Saturday and eight on a Sunday, compared to nearly 1,500 on a Saturday and 1,200 on a Sunday for a restaurant.

Morabito said a restaurant would also require seven times more parking than an office building.

Mark Burns of Foreside Architects also spoke for the association, comparing lot size and parking with the existing Foreside Tavern restaurant and bar on Route 1. He said Rivalries would have a 9,400-square-foot footprint (including the basement) on a half acre, compared to Foreside Taven’s 5,800-square-foot footprint on more than an acre of property. 

Burns said Rivalries would only have 24 on-site parking spots, compared with Foreside Tavern’s 107.

Mike Hays, an architect from Grant Hays Associates for Rivalries, said Rivalries would “definitely have enough parking,” including on site and in other lots and streets nearby.

“We plan to demonstrate meeting the parking requirements during the site review (process),” Hays said.

While other members of the public also discussed parking and traffic issues, Planning Board Chairman Jay Chace said the board is not looking at site plan items like parking or building buffering, only the proposed amendments.

“We’re not going to get into that level of detail,” Chace said. “This is about use.”

Israel said there was “significant objection from the public,” and rather than recommend approval, he wanted the minutes to reflect the public’s opinion and be taken into account by the council.

Board member William Benzing said he would like to see businesses come to the area, and he is concerned about the message that might be sent to businesses looking to develop in the Route 1 area if the board did not recommend the amendments. 

“We need to focus in on the discussion right now,” Benzing said.

Chace admitted there are still challenges for the project.

“The applicants have an uphill battle on site approval, but that’s a discussion for another time,” he said.

Board members Israel, McKeon and Chris Hickey, on the other hand, suggested issues like parking should to be considered. McKeon said a restaurant is “qualitatively different” from the use now intended for the lot.

“I couldn’t recommend a restaurant in this area, given parking and potential impact to the quality of life in the area,” Israel said.

Hickey, who was ultimately the swing vote, said it is clear the applicant is aware of parking deficiencies, but that it seemed “a waste of time to talk about flights of fancy” issues that didn’t include parking.

“It’s incumbent on the Planning Board to provide intelligence (to the Town Council),” Hickey said. “We can’t ignore more global issues.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.