Falmouth council: 'Tremendous potential' in Route 1 proposal

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FALMOUTH — Town councilors on Monday were generally enthusiastic about a massive mixed-use development being proposed by the new owners of the Falmouth Shopping Center.

But they also made clear that public input will play a large role in how the project, called Falmouth Center, moves forward.

Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill promised “a very robust (public) process.”

The goal, according to Jonathan Cohen, who is partnering with Joseph Solely on the project, is to expand the current shopping plaza by adding amenities including a hotel, sports complex, housing, offices and more.

Cohen and Soley are proposing a master plan that would create more than 400,000 square feet of new development on about 40 acres along Route 1 near Bucknam Road. Cohen has declined to discuss the cost of the project, which would be built in phases over seven years.

Specifics about possible future tenants are not available, but the Seacoast United Sports Club, which now operates in Topsham and Brewer, announced June 1 that it would move into the new complex.

To accommodate Seacoast United, the developers will build two outdoor, artificial turf fields, as well as an indoor artificial turf field facility, according to the proposed master plan.

Cohen said Monday that the sports complex “is an incredible economic driver” and “catalyst” for the rest of the project and one that “allows everything else to happen.” He also told the council that obtaining the zoning amendments required to allow Seacoast United to move to Falmouth is “time sensitive.”

Although there’s no specific timeline for much of the development, Cohen said Monday that Seacoast United needs the outdoor fields ready for use by next April, and the indoor facility ready by the fall of 2019, to make the project viable.

The ultimate goal for Falmouth Center, Cohen said in an interview last week, is to create a “lifestyle center (that includes) destination-driven activities. These types of centers are being built in other places around the country and are replacing the old-style strip malls.”

In presenting an overview of the project to the Town Council Monday, Katherine Detmer of Archetype Architects in Portland said the idea is to make the development “pedestrian-oriented, family-friendly and active year-round.”

She said major access to Falmouth Center would be through a new entrance at the intersection of Bucknam Road and Route 1. The project will also feature a pedestrian promenade and a village green or square, Detmer said.

The developers intend to utilize 29 acres of undeveloped land, now part of the Falmouth Shopping Center, as well as about 11 acres of state-owned land abutting the Maine Turnpike spur to the north.

The spur property is available under a partnership between the town and the Maine Department of Transportation designed to give the land to a developer who would remove the highway overpass and ramps, and replace them with a grade-level intersection on Route 1.

The architectural details for each of the 21 new buildings being proposed are still to be worked out, but Detmer said developers want to create “an historic-type streetscape” within the development with “New England-style” facades on buildings made of stone, brick and wood that feature “lots of windows.”

On a website designed to provide basic project details, the developers said  Falmouth Center would include “a mixture of uses, (such as) retail, dining, recreation, residential living, hotel and office space in a village-like setting.”

“Falmouth Center (will) be transformed into an active lifestyle center while still maintaining the unique character of Falmouth,” the website adds. In addition, the project will include walking trails, entertainment venues, a pet-friendly atmosphere and all associated amenities “of a first-class, mixed-use development.”

Public comment was not allowed at Monday’s meeting, but will be heard during a forum scheduled for 7 p.m. June 25.

Town Manager Nathan Poore this week said the upcoming forum would also include discussion on a request by the developers to expand the Village Center 1 zone to include the two new outdoor turf fields.

Councilor Andrea Ferrante on Monday called the proposal “exciting” and said she appreciates the amount of work that’s been done.

Hemphill called the proposal “refreshing” and said it “provides a significantly better vision for what the Route 1 corridor could be” than any prior ideas.

“This is a more intelligent design and is very encouraging,” he said. “A lot of things still need to be worked out, but I believe the developers understand what Falmouth wants to see (there). It’s really very exciting and I’m very optimistic that we can proceed in an interactive way.”

Councilor Karen Farber said the project has “tremendous potential” and she believes “the pedestrian focus will be a welcome change.”

Councilor Claudia King said she likes the fact that the project “will enlarge our commercial tax base significantly.”

Cohen noted he lives in Falmouth and said he is trying to be aware of what the community wants.

“I see this as a great opportunity for Falmouth,” he said, “and I’m willing to discuss anything and everything.”

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

An illustration of the new construction planned at the proposed Falmouth Center project on Route 1, near Bucknam Road. The existing Falmouth Shopping Center is at the far right.

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