Falmouth Center opponents keep pressure on councilors

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FALMOUTH — One after another, residents expressed opposition Monday to the proposed mixed-use Falmouth Center development on Route 1.

“Everything about this proposed (project) is wrong for our town,” Michelle Sheldon said during the special Jan. 14 Town Council public forum.

“If you vote in favor,” Sheldon told councilors, “then you’re not listening.”

She was one of dozens of people who took the opportunity to tell councilors what they thought of the proposal, which includes a sports complex, hotel, residential housing, retail space and more, on the site of the Falmouth Shopping Center.

Developer Jonathan Cohen and business partner Joseph Solely purchased the shopping plaza in March 2018 for $21 million and soon came to the town with a plan that included 400,000 square feet of new development on about 40 acres along Route 1, near the Bucknam Road intersection.

The land is bisected by the Village Center and Business Professional zones, and much of what Cohen and Soley want to do is not allowed in the BP zone. They’re asking the council to rezone the entire parcel to an amended version of the VC zone.

Most of the opinions expressed Monday haven’t changed since an initial public forum was held in late June 2018, when many residents told the council they feared a project that size would have too much of a negative impact, including increased traffic, noise and light.

Those concerns were largely shared again Monday, but many also said they’re worried about the impact on the environment, especially since the nearby Mill Creek estuary is listed as a threatened waterway by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Resident Kristen Farnham said while Falmouth should “expand its economic base and provide opportunity for business to grow,” that area of Route 1 is not right for such a massive development.

Farnham said the shopping center abuts the Falmouth Nature Preserve, which she called “a treasure” and “an absolute gem” that could be severely impacted by the current development plan.

Ron Dearth agreed.

He called Falmouth Center “grotesque” in size and scale, and while he’s worried about increased traffic, said his “main concern is the environmental impact.”

Dearth noted if the status of Mill Creek or any of its tributaries are bumped up to impaired, the remediation bill would come to the town, not the developers. “The chance of costly environmental impacts are too large to ignore,” he said.

Peter Leavitt, who owns Leavitt & Sons deli on the corner of Depot Road and Route 1, said while he’s been “anxious for things to happen” at the Falmouth Shopping Center, he’s also concerned that the council is being asked “to make a decision without having all the facts.”

And, he argued, “the town has still been able to thrive with the shopping center as is.”

Resident Mark Rand also said he believes the council is being rushed into making “a mistake that could define Falmouth forever.”

“This plan has serious flaws,” he said, arguing he doesn’t want Route 1 in Falmouth to look like it does in Scarborough or Saco.

The SeaCoast United sports club is the only announced tenant for Falmouth Center, which includes two proposed outdoor artificial turf fields and one indoor field, along with an associated administrative building.

Many residents said they might welcome more restaurants and retail, but most were opposed to the sports complex, which Cohen has described as being the centerpiece of the development.

Robert Hunt echoed several speakers when he called the “athletic complex a major negative.” He also said that the town’s “current amenities adequately serve Falmouth.”

A few people spoke in favor of the project, including Paul Greene, who said, “the current Route 1 is no Utopia.” He also argued that the playing fields do not represent “a mega sports complex.”

Greene said Falmouth Center “won’t destroy the integrity of the community” and the project should be viewed as a way “to entice people to come to Falmouth and spend money. This is a positive opportunity for this community.”

John Anderson also expressed support, and said he’s “glad someone finally has a vision” for the aging shopping center. He argued the development would “help Falmouth to grow and not just hibernate.”

But Jane Begert said, “clearly everyone here, save a few, are against this project.”

She went on to suggest that it would be “political suicide” for councilors to allow Falmouth Center to move forward.

The council will next hold a regular meeting on Jan. 28, but no votes related to the project have been scheduled yet.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Residents packed the cafeteria at Falmouth Elementary School Monday for a public forum on the proposed Falmouth Center mixed-use development on Route 1. The vast majority of those who spoke opposed the project, which needs a zone change to move forward.