Editorial: Falmouth is open for business (just ask the folks at Tidewater Farm)

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The Falmouth Town Council made a mistake Monday when it unanimously approved zoning changes that would allow construction of a restaurant and sports pub off Clearwater Drive in Tidewater Village.

It’s not that the business, Rivalries, doesn’t belong in Falmouth. It’s that it doesn’t belong on the lot chosen for the project.

Although the proposal received a less-than-enthusiastic Planning Board recommendation Feb. 3, councilors all along have seemed willing to bend over backwards to please the project’s developers, while paying lip service to the objections of nearby Tidewater Farm residents (who include the president of The Forecaster).

Among the neighbors’ arguments:

• The half-acre property at Clearwater Drive, Farm Gate Road and Hat Trick Drive is too small for Rivalries, and can provide only about a third of the parking required for the proposed nearly 9,500-square-foot restaurant.

• The business would generate more than 100 daily vehicle trips and inevitably turn narrow, winding, often unlit Farm Gate Road into the most direct route for customers traveling from West Falmouth.

• The restaurant would be open, and its traffic and parking problems would persist, for at least 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week, compared with the average 11-hour weekday-only impact from a commercial office building. An office building would also generate fewer vehicle trips and require less parking, and could be built without dismantling the existing zoning.

Falmouth officials have had to fend off critics who in the past have claimed the town is unfriendly to businesses. Rivalries, owned by Falmouth residents, offers a reliable and successful business history in Portland, and has the support of patrons and other business owners who believe it will fill a void in the town’s dining and entertainment choices.

But those aren’t good enough reasons to throw out the promises the town made with residents, who put their faith and finances into Tidewater Farm housing, based on a master plan that maintains a balance between residential and commercial uses in a unique, cluster neighborhood.

The mix was never supposed to include a large restaurant-bar-banquet facility, shoe-horned into a too-small lot, with too little on-site parking, rotated to face Hat Trick Drive and give the impression it’s not part of the neighborhood that governs its zoning.

Being friendly to businesses means more than rolling out the welcome mat without regard for consequences. It means creating an environment where business developers – and residents – can expect fair, consistent application of the town’s established standards, with exceptions only when there is an undeniable need to right a wrong.

In this case, there’s nothing wrong with the zoning. But there is a lot wrong with the way the town has (mis)handled the attempt to amend it.

We hope the Planning Board, where the proposal is now headed for further scrutiny, will think carefully about the precedent being set, the impact on the Tidewater neighborhood, and the potential for litigation, if the project is allowed to move forward.

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