Falmouth planners OK Rivalries sports pub project

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FALMOUTH — The Planning Board on Tuesday night approved a proposed expansion by a local sports pub.

The board voted 3-1 for the site plan from Portland-based Rivalries to build on a Tidewater Village lot adjacent to Clearwater Drive and Farm Gate Road, behind Wal-Mart.

Board member Chris Hickey voted against the approval. Board member Rudy Israel was absent and alternate board member Jason Cole abstained because he had not been present for previous discussions.

The decision effectively ended a debate that began nearly a year ago, when plans were first presented to the Town Council. The proposal generated almost immediate backlash from residents of Tidewater Farm, the adjacent mixed-use housing development.

When first presented to the council, the plan was for a two-story, 11,400-square-foot restaurant that would seat nearly 200 people. Over time, the plan was reduced to 8,000 square feet, and eventually became a single-story building with a footprint of 4,600 square feet.

Opponents to the proposal spoke out at the December meeting, largely with concerns about buffering and parking along Farm Gate Road, where nine on-street parking spots are planned. In the past, residents have called Farm Gate Road a gateway to their community.

Tom Emery of Foreside Architects, the firm hired to represent the Tidewater Farm Homeowners Association, said there wasn’t enough evidence the nine spots were necessary, a sentiment echoed by other speakers. He said there would be enough parking spots surrounding the site to mitigate the need for parking on Farm Gate Road.

The plan approved by the board on Tuesday has 125 seats  inside, and an additional 32 outdoor seasonal seats. Only 53 parking spaces will be required by ordinance because of the number of seats inside. The Rivalries applicants have long said there will be ample parking in surrounding areas.

The applicants had surveys done on both parking and traffic, and received a Maine Department of Transportation traffic permit.

The parking study indicates 25 on-site parking spaces will be provided; 20 additional leased spots will be in an adjacent lot in Tidewater Village, with 20 more shared spots in another lot.

An updated version of the study also said up to 35 public parking spots could be used on the north side of Clearwater Drive, with 25 parallel spots on the south side, and seven spaces on Hat Trick Drive. The proposal also includes the nine parking spots on Farm Gate Road.

The parking study said the restaurant would have 45 fully controlled spaces, and an additional 76 shared public and private spaces before 5 p.m. That number would increase to 96 after 5 p.m., when nearby businesses would be closed and no longer require parking.

The applicants said the nine spots on Farm gate Road were necessary to meet the 53-space minimum during lunch hours, when other shared spots would be occupied by businesses that operate during the day.

Clifford Gilpin, the president of the homeowner’s association, said it was not credible the nine spots could only be located on Farm Gate Road, adding the nearby Family Ice Center would likely have extra spaces during the day to make up for the difference.

“This does not pass the straight-face test,” Gilpin said.

Lance Meader, owner of Rivalries and a resident of Falmouth, said the applicants had been under the impression the nine spaces were necessary to meet the ordinance requirements.

“These are nine safe and convenient spots next to the restaurant,” Meader said, adding that he believed they would actually reduce traffic on Farm Gate Road, as drivers would not need to drive up and down the street looking for parking.

“We’re ready to push forward with this,” Meader said.

Ethan Croce, the town’s senior planner, said there are no parking restrictions in place on Farm Gate Road, meaning drivers may park there anyway.

While parking and traffic had long been issues to the board at past meetings, members were largely satisfied the application met all the necessary requirements.

Board Chairman Jay Chace said the applicants had met the intent and purpose of the ordinance.

“I certainly respect the concerns of the neighborhood, but I don’t see anything being proposed contrary to the ordinance,” Chace said.

Board member Thomas McKeon said the applicants had worked hard to show there was parking available that met the minimum standard and was adequate.

“I don’t think the parking spots take away from the gateway feel,” McKeon said.

Hickey, the lone board member who voted against the application, cited parking as the reason for his decision. He also said he was glad to see the application moving forward and that there was Planning Board support for it, but it was “discouraging” that despite hard work, they didn’t “end up with the best product.”

“We could have done more with (parking),” Hickey said.

The applicants still must return to the Town Council for access to Hat Trick Drive, a town-owned road. Councilors in the past have generally expressed support for the project.

A timetable for construction was not discussed at the meeting.

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

The site of a proposed Rivalries sports bar and restaurant expansion at the corner of Clearwater Drive and Farm Gate Road in Falmouth.

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.