Falmouth moves toward allowing contract zoning

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FALMOUTH — A Town Council committee is working on drafting language that would allow contract zoning.

Contract zoning is a tool cities and towns can use to rezone a district or parcel of land within an existing zone based on an agreement with a property owner or developer. There are usually conditions attached to these agreements; surrounding towns such as Freeport and Cumberland have used contract zoning for years.

The discussion of contract zoning came to the council as a result of a proposed expansion of the Foreside Estates apartment complex on Clearwater Drive, a 170-unit complex owned and operated by Princeton Properties. Princeton first went before the council in May to propose an additional 72 units in three new buildings.                 

The expansion would have required a zoning amendment, and town staff ultimately recommended contract zoning because it would “provide a new mechanism to address special projects in the future,” according to a memo from Amanda Stearns, the town’s community development director.

“Staff have reviewed zoning methods both currently used in our ordinance as well as others permitted under state statute and have concluded that the adoption of contract zoning would most likely serve the community and the developer in the most effective way,” the June 16 memo said.

In June, the council asked the community development committee and staff to begin drafting language enabling the legislation. Councilor Claudia King, who chairs the CDC, said contract zoning would give the town a “creative and flexible approach” towards these kinds of projects going forward.

“Contact zoning is another tool in the belt,” she said.

According to the draft language, once an application is in it would go under concept review, and once it is deemed complete by Stearns or a designee, the CDC would review it to determine if requirements have been met. The applicant would then be able to file for a formal review. There would be a $250 application fee for conceptual review, and a $500 fee for a formal review.

King said the Planning Board would review an application before it went to the council, though council Chairwoman Karen Farber suggested the CDC meet with the Planning Board for that discussion.

“Falmouth has lacked this provision,” said Councilor Caleb Hemphill, who is also a member of the CDC. “This is relatively common … in other communities.”

Hemphill added he didn’t expect projects requiring contract zoning to be common, but the practice would allow the town and partner to move forward in a more deliberate manner.

As proposed, contract zoning would be restricted to residential growth areas.

On Tuesday, Stearns said there were several reasons for the restricted. The town does not want to encourage development in rural residential districts beyond what the current ordinance provides, she noted, and the Village Center districts along Route 1 were recently approved.

“There is a desire to see that area of Route 1 development under the prescribed zoning,” Stearns said.

For Route 100, the council has adopted a report by the Route 100 Committee prescribing certain zoning changes to that area, and those should be implemented at this time, Stearns said. And, finally, for the Business Professional district on Route 1, Stearns said a study committee is looking at infrastructure and the land use policy for that area.

While no formal action was taken by the council, councilors indicated they were generally in favor of the idea, and indicated the CDC should continue its work.

In other business, the council:

• Unanimously approved a victualer’s license for a participant in the Falmouth Farmers Market, with Councilor Aaron Svedlow absent from the proceedings. The council held a public hearing because the applicant, Eugene Weir of Cumberland, was late getting his application into the town.

Weir, who is vice president of the association, is a convicted sex offender, but the only person who spoke during the public hearing – Kathy Shaw, director of the Cumberland Farmers Market Association, which includes Falmouth –  supported his application and said Weir has been a member of the association for several years.

This is the first year vendors are required to be licensed in Falmouth, so Weir did not need a permit in the past.

Unanimously accepted a public water system study conducted by Wright-Pierce, which found three areas in town that were under served, but overall, the town’s designated growth areas are well served.

• Unanimously approved a resolution to seek members of the public for a bicycle-pedestrian stakeholder group to work on implementing the recently approved bicycle-pedestrian plan.

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

Falmouth Town Hall

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.