Falmouth Center developer: Project hinges on sports complex

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FALMOUTH — Despite encouragement from the Town Council Monday to continue talking, the developer of a proposed mixed-use project on Route 1 seemed prepared to walk away.

The council previously reached consensus that it could not approve a zone change requested for the sports complex component of the proposed Falmouth Center without a master plan approach to the entire project.

But developer Jonathan Cohen this week continued to argue that without the zoning amendment, he would not be able to move forward with the redevelopment of the Falmouth Shopping Center property because the sports element is integral.

At times during the council’s meeting on Monday, July 23, Cohen seemed both frustrated and disappointed that he could not convince councilors to move the zoning line “only 7 yards” to accommodate two outdoor turf fields and one indoor field.

Cohen called the proposed project, which has been described as a lifestyle center, “a huge step forward” for the town. He said it would be low impact and provide a net gain, especially in terms of additional tax revenue.

The sports complex is only one aspect of the Falmouth Center plan. When he originally introduced the project in early June, Cohen said it would also include a hotel, residential housing, restaurants and additional retail and office space.

In all, Falmouth Center would have more than 400,000 square feet of new development on about 40 acres along Route 1 near Bucknam Road, including 11 acres now owned by the state for the Falmouth Spur interchange..

Cohen on Monday said it wasn’t fair or cost-effective for him to map out a master plan, especially for property he doesn’t own. He also said that Seacoast United, the organization that would operate the sports fields, has a deadline for the fields to be ready.

Seacoast United is the only announced tenant for Falmouth Center and Cohen has repeatedly said without this anchor, the entire proposal would fall apart.

But Monday councilors said Cohen is asking them to allow the least-liked aspect of the project and they weren’t in a position to do that, even though they favor many other parts of the proposal.

“I want your project to happen, I really do, but the most negativity is about what you’re asking for,” Councilor Andrea Ferrante said. “The sports complex is certainly not what appeals to most people.”

Councilor Claudia King added “The first thing out of the box is a tough one to swallow. It won’t stand a chance without a lot more information.”

But she also encouraged Cohen to consider the master planning process, which she called “an enormously flexible tool.”

Ferrante also kept at Cohen and said “I do believe there is a way we can work together. I think this is very doable if we can meet somewhere in the middle. It’s not simply black and white.

“I’m just saying give us more than the soccer fields,” she said. “We need to know you’re willing to do more than that.”

But Cohen kept repeating that approval of the playing fields is his top priority.

That’s when Councilor Amy Kuhn said she didn’t like being pressured on the sports complex, especially when “we’ve heard that there’s a tremendous amount of interest in other aspects” of the project.

“It would be a shame if you walked away,” Kuhn said.

Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill also encouraged Cohen to work with the town and said several times that “we’re offering a way to make it happen. We’ve proposed a process where we could understand the project more comprehensively.”

Hemphill also said the town is not asking for finalized plans, but “we do need to better understand the implications,” including impacts on the environment and traffic, and issues of noise and light pollution.

“There’s a lot to this,” he said, “and it’s troubling to do only one aspect. It’s very difficult for you to ask us to consider (the project) in that order.”

Councilor Hope Cahan agreed and said, “it’s difficult to make a decision on only one portion.”

Councilor Ted Asherman said there might be a chance to “fit in the athletic fields somehow, but we’re trying to see how all this fits in and how it will all work.”

Cohen ended the discussion Monday by saying that he would “go back to my team and see where we can go from here, but I have a tenant with time pressures.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Jonathan Cohen, who bought the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1 in partnership with Joseph Soley, said Monday he may not be able to continue with redevelopment plans without immediate approval of a zone change needed for a proposed sports complex.

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