Falmouth, Maine DOT team to market land at end of turnpike spur

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FALMOUTH — About 11 acres of state-owned land on Route 1 will be made available for private development, the town and Maine Department of Transportation announced Thursday.

In what MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt called a “unique partnership” between the agency and town, the land on the east side of Route 1 at the end of the Maine Turnpike Falmouth Spur will be put out to bid for development.

“I think (the arrangement) is one of a kind,” Bernhardt said in a press conference at Central Fire Station on Bucknam Road.

In exchange for the land, Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore said, the developer selected will have to remove the existing turnpike bridge and ramps and create an at-grade intersection. The developer will be selected by the town, and the work will have to be approved by MDOT.

He said the town approached MDOT with the proposal.

Bernhardt said the change will provide advantages to existing businesses and offer opportunities for future businesses. He said the project will be “revenue neutral,” because the developer will be responsible for building the infrastructure before taking over the property, and it will mean “one less bridge” for the MDOT to maintain.

Bernhardt said he does not have an estimate of what it would have cost MDOT to remove the bridge and create the intersection. He said the developers will have several infrastructure options.

“We’re going to ask the developers to think about what they could do,” he said.

Poore said conversations about developing the property date to 2009, when there was a series of public forums about nearby commercial vacancies and available land, including the still-empty former Shaw’s supermarket at the Falmouth Shopping Center.

Unlike the shopping center vacancy, which was created when the supermarket moved to another space in the center, Poore said it is “highly unlikely” the MDOT land will remain unused because the selected developer will have serious interest and not be likely to build something on speculation.

Poore said the town has received inquiries from developers about the property since 2009, but did not identify any of them.

“Ideas and high-level discussions can now start to materialize,” he said.

The Town Council is scheduled to have its first public discussion of the plan on Monday, Jan. 11.

Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long range planning, said the council could decide to move forward with the partnership as soon as Jan. 25, and a request for proposals could go out Jan. 26. He said the town will seek responses from developers from “Maine and beyond.”

A pre-bid conference would be held in February, which Holtwijk said will be an opportunity for interested developers to ask questions. April 11 could be the due date for proposals, he said.

Holtwijk said MDOT and the developer whose bid is accepted will work on arrangements over the summer, and a plan will be submitted in the fall for the MDOT to review. He said the property is not subject to any land-use regulations, so some level of zoning will have to be added.

Holtwijk said groundbreaking could occur in spring 2017, followed by a year and a half of construction and completion of the project by the fall of 2018.

Town Council Vice Chairman Russell Anderson, who attended the press conference, said the partnership is very exciting and “fits with the vision” of the extension of the Route 1 corridor.

The town last summer completed an extensive renovation of Route 1 in the area south of the MDOT property, from Bucknam Road to Foreside Road (Route 88).

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

Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt, left, and Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore at a press conference Thursday, Jan. 7, in Falmouth, explaining a partnership between the MDOT and the town for private development of state-owned land along Route 1.

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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.
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