Falmouth panel invites business development

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FALMOUTH — In what some are calling an unusual move, the Falmouth Economic Improvement Committee has taken a highly public stance in favor of business development.

In a statement read to the Town Council, Pam DiPietro Hale, chairwoman of the panel, said business leaders have been getting the message lately that at least some in town view commercial growth as detrimental.

“We continually see pushback for new projects and criticism of individuals who want to improve our community through the development of retail, commercial, and other business projects,” DiPietro Hale said at the Oct. 22 council meeting.

But in the face of that perceived environment, she said the committee wants business owners to know they are welcome in Falmouth.

“The FEIC encourages all those interested in opening, maintaining, and expanding business activities in Falmouth to actively pursue these efforts,” DiPietro Hale said.

In an interview earlier this month, she said the committee felt compelled to take a public position because “(we) are interested in communicating that we intend to support business growth.”

In particular, DiPietro Hale said the committee was disturbed by public reaction to the Falmouth Center development proposal last spring.

The new owners of the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1 have unveiled ambitious plans for the property, but there was immediate opposition to the proposal, particularly from abutters who felt the project would have a negative impact on their quality of life.

The development was scheduled to be back before the Town Council Wednesday, Nov. 14, after The Forecaster’s deadline.

At that meeting councilors were expected to discuss a request by the developer to rezone the entire project site.  Also expected was discussion about the impact studies councilors have said are needed before the project can advance.

The Economic Impropvement Committeee said it’s statement in support of businesses was also critical because it acknowledges that they “are important to our local economy and tax base, and they contribute their resources generously to our community.”

Afterward the Oct. 22 meeting, Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said that while a town committee making such a statement is “not typical,” it was still “well within the committee’s capacity.”

“Evidently the committee felt strongly enough that it wanted to communicate with the town and the council,” Hemphill said.

Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long-range planning and economic development, who is also the staff liaison to the Economic Improvement Committee, said it was his understanding that committee members wanted “the public to hear how (they) feel and what (their) perspective on development is.”

He agreed with Hemphill that “there’s no history of any committee crafting such a statement, but it was an important statement of the committee’s job, which is to advocate for business development in town. The council can do with it what they will.”

“We hope that broadcasting this message will make businesses aware that our committee is working to build the Falmouth business community and that they will see the FEIC as actively supporting growth in our business community,” DiPietro Hale said.

She said her committee is not seeking “special consideration” for any particular project, but she said members also want to be sure that a developer has a chance to go through “the well-established public process” in order to be fairly vetted.

According to the town website, the seven-member Economic Improvement Committee was created in 2010 and is charged with monitoring and implementing economic development strategy and making recommendations for improvements to the development and site plan review process.

DiPietro Hale said the committee’s specific areas of focus right now include improving Falmouth’s economic development climate, enhancing the town’s recruitment, creation, retention, and expansion efforts of business, and cultivating Falmouth’s innovation and entrepreneurial community.

“We are not asking the Town Council to do anything specifically,” she said. “(We just wanted to say that) Falmouth’s businesses have been a welcomed and engaged part of our community and the FEIC hopes that this strong engagement continues.”

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

Pam DiPietro Hale, chairwoman of the Falmouth Economic Improvement Committee, speaks to the Town Council at its Oct. 22 meeting.

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