Falmouth councilors promise public input on Route 1 development

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council on Monday night unanimously voted to  partner with the Maine Department of Transportation and issue a request for proposals for the private development of 11 acres of state-owned land along Route 1.

The land, at the eastern end of the Maine Turnpike Falmouth Spur, will be given to a developer by MDOT. The developer selected by the town will have to remove the turnpike overpass and ramps and create a grade-level intersection on Route 1 in exchange for the land.

The work will have to be approved by the MDOT. The agreement will save MDOT the cost of maintaining and/or rebuilding the spur. The town will maintain the intersection.

The partnership stems back to 2009, when the town held a series of public forums about commercial vacancies and available land, including the still-empty former Shaw’s supermarket at the Falmouth Shopping Center. The town ultimately approached MDOT with the proposal.

The parcel was not subject to zoning because it was state owned, so any future projects will have to go through the town’s zoning process.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said the RFP has been developed and the town wanted “to put it out there to the world” following council approval. The RFP was scheduled to be posted Tuesday on the project Web page.

“We are ready to go with this project,” Poore said.

The time line, as presented at a Jan. 11 council meeting and the Jan. 7 press conference where the partnership was first announced, includes a pre-bid conference in February, when developers can ask questions. April 11 has been tentatively scheduled as a possible due date for proposals, with possible groundbreaking in the spring of 2017.

On Tuesday, the town’s Director of Long Range Planning, Theo Holtwijk, said the pre-bid conference will be a good way to see if April 11 is “manageable for developers to put in quality proposals.”

“It’s in our interest to make sure we get quality proposals,” Holtwijk said.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, councilors had discussed vetting the proposals during executive sessions in order to give themselves more negotiating leverage. This was the same process the council followed in the sale of former town schools on Lunt Road to the OceanView retirement community. The property sold in 2013 for $3.25 million.

Councilors again agreed that was the preferred method, although Councilor Karen Farber said she had concerns there wasn’t enough public involvement.

Farber said the bidders with the best proposals should be prepared to make presentations to the public, because it would be a “massive transformation of a piece of land.”

“History shows we make our best decisions when we hear from the public,” Farber said.

She said it would be beneficial to hear what the public wants, especially if the town receives two “very different but equal caliber” proposals.

Councilors were agreed there would be opportunities for public input along the way. There was a public forum at Monday’s meeting, although no one spoke.

Vice Chairman Russell Anderson said with a project this big, public input is as certain “as it is the sun will come up” in the morning.

“We won’t do this behind closed doors,” Anderson said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Falmouth and the Maine Department of Transportation hope to attract development to 11 acres of land on Route 1 at the end of the Maine Turnpike spur.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.