Development project will alter Falmouth’s character, residents say

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FALMOUTH — The majority of those who spoke at a public forum Monday on the proposed Falmouth Center mixed-used development said such a large commercial project would irrevocably change the town – and not for the better.

Of more than a dozen people who spoke, most were from the Foreside neighborhood, a large part of which abuts the back of the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1 that would make up a large part of the proposed development site.

The forum was held as the first test for Falmouth Center approaches on July 3, when the Planning Board is set to hold a public hearing on rezoning a portion of the Falmouth Shopping Center site. Developer Jonathan Cohen requested the change to allow construction of outdoor sports fields being proposed under the plan.

It’s unclear when the Town Council may hold a final vote on the rezoning request, which many at the forum asked councilors to postpone. They said it would be better to have a master plan for the entire project, instead of re-zoning the parcel piecemeal.

Following Monday’s meeting, Cohen told The Forecaster he’s excited about the potential opportunity for Falmouth Center and said he truly believes it’s a project that would be of long-term benefit and one that “I can be proud of.”

He argued only direct abutters spoke out against the project and said “it would be a shame if this opportunity were lost because (residents) haven’t made their voices heard.”

Cohen also said if the Falmouth Center project is turned down “likely nothing would happen there for another 30 years.”

In response to skepticism about whether a town the size of Falmouth, which has just under 12,000 residents, could support such a large commercial center, Cohen said he has “multiple tenants and operators interested” in the project.

If there was fear that the project wouldn’t be successful, he said, then these potential tenants wouldn’t be knocking on his door. “I have five different hotels interested and a myriad of (other) tenants interested based on this proposal and the planned amenities.”

“This opportunity is not likely to come again,” he said, which is why “it’s very important that people in favor make their voices heard.”

A key part of the project is a sports complex that would house a new location for the Seacoast United Sports Club. To support Seacoast United, Cohen has said two new outdoor sports fields and an indoor field with an associated administrative building would be required.

Seacoast United is the first and only announced tenant for the proposed development. Cohen previously said the outdoor fields would have to be ready by next April, and the indoor facility ready by the fall of 2019 to make the entire Falmouth Center project viable.

This week he said it’s “so incredibly important to accommodate this user because we need an anchor to kick-start” the project.

Cohen and his partner, Joseph Solely, recently purchased the Falmouth Shopping Center, and under the proposal now on the table they would add more than 400,000 square feet of new development on about 40 acres along Route 1 near Bucknam Road.

The Falmouth Center plans include a hotel, housing, offices, retail, restaurants and a village green in a pedestrian-friendly, lifestyle center. Major access to Falmouth Center would be through a new entrance at the intersection of Bucknam Road and Route 1, according to project architect Katherine Detmer.

At the forum, resident John Edwards urged the council to “consider whether a development of this size would make Falmouth a better place to live or irrevocably change the town’s character.”

“This center will bring traffic, congestion and gridlock and that’s not what I want for this town,” he added. “I’m really concerned that our quality of life would be diminished” if this project is allowed to go through.

Harold Payson said, “I’m very concerned about this potential project because Falmouth is a small town and this proposal is going in totally the wrong direction. This would be a 150 percent increase over what the shopping center is now (and) I’m very concerned with the impacts.”

Fred Leighton said he hadn’t intended to speak, but felt compelled to because he fears “this one commercial entity could change the entire town. Falmouth doesn’t need to go commercial, we’ve worked hard to create the town we have today.”

But Bonny Rodden, a former town councilor, said Falmouth Center represents the type of development the town has been working toward for Route 1 over the last several years.

“I’m personally very excited about this project and I’m thankful to the developer for having the vision of moving us from the 1950s to the 21st century. This proposal has many of the elements people said they wanted” during prior Route 1 planning sessions.

Speaking for himself, Chris Wasileski, development manager of the OceanView at Falmouth retirement community, agreed with Rodden about the potential the Falmouth Center project represents.

He called the project “an opportunity for diverse growth” and said “SeaCoast is a class organization and I like the walkability. I would encourage those in support of the evolution of Falmouth to speak up.”

This story has been updated regarding expected Town Council action on the zone change request.

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

Most of those who spoke out against the Falmouth Center mixed-use project live on the Foreside, which abuts the back of the proposed development site on 40 acres on Route 1 near Bucknam Road.

Jonathan Cohen, developer of the proposed Falmouth Center project, speaks in defense of the large commercial development that would bring a hotel, sports complex, housing and more to Route 1.

A large crowd of residents turned out to hear more and comment on the proposed Falmouth Center mixed development project Monday. The meeting was moved from Town Hall to the elementary school to accommodate the numbers.