Falmouth development strategies move forward

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council has received reports on both a proposed economic development strategy and a Route 100 vision.

If they move forward, preliminary engineering costs could be up to $400,000.

Janice de Lima, a Falmouth Economic Improvement Committee member, last week told councilors the development strategy took “years to craft” and after multiple opportunities for public input, key components were drafted. Each component has action plans and strategies.

Those components would enhance Falmouth’s economic development climate; enhance recruitment, creation, retention, and expansion efforts for businesses, and cultivate innovation and an entrepreneurial climate.

“We need to get started fast,” de Lima said.

Council Chairwoman Karen Farber asked if the committee members envisioned sustaining the FEIC in coming years, and if the charge of the committee should be re-examined.

Dimitri Balatsos, another FEIC member, said it is up to the council to decide what the committee should do going forward.

“It will have to come from the Council,” Balatsos said. “You have to tell us what your expectations are.”

Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long range planning, said the committee “is ready to take the next step.”

“Your guidance can give the committee some energy,” Holtwijk said.

The conversation later turned to business development, and specifically why the long-empty former Shaw’s Supermarkets building remains empty at the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1.

“The thing I hear the most from residents is why can’t we get someone into the vacant Shaw’s building,” Councilor Russell Anderson said.

Jim Damicis, of Camoin Associates,which helped draft the plan, said this was “a market challenge,” and there is a national difficulty in filling retail space of that size.

“It’s not an uncommon or unique challenge,” Damicis said. He added the building is “a signature property” in town, but its uses are somewhat limited. For example, he said a grocery store couldn’t go in because Shaw’s is still in the shopping center. He also added “it’s not easy or inexpensive to convert (the space) to other uses.”

“If you have a large retail space, some things might not make sense to spend money on to convert the building,” Damicis said. He added “at the end of the day, it’s someone’s private property making private decisions.”

Route 100

Andrea Ferrante, chairwoman of the Route 100 Vision Committee, said the committee’s charge is to enhance the West Falmouth area and “bring it back to life.”

“The overarching theme was to help this part of town become whole, up to date and safer,” Ferrante said.

The plan for improving Route 100, which is estimated to cost just over $10 million, calls for traffic, roadway, and intersection improvements; pedestrian and bicycle improvements; public sewer improvements, and land use and development changes.

“The committee hit the nail on the head,” Farber said.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said council acceptance of the recommendations will authorize town staff to begin looking into preliminary engineering.

“You can expect (those costs) to be … between $200,000 and $400,000,” Poore said.

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

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.