Falmouth Planning Board checks off on Route 1 plan

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FALMOUTH — After several years in the making, a comprehensive plan to overhaul Route 1 passed one of its final hurdles Tuesday night: a unanimous endorsement from the Planning Board.

The plan now heads to the Town Council for final approval May 13 before going to voters in June.

At the meeting, minor tweaks and technical amendments were approved by the board, mostly concerning parking issues.

The $11.7 million plan, which aims to create a more village-like feel along the business corridor and encourage multiple forms of transportation, includes immediate aesthetic changes such as burying utility lines, landscaping medians, installing sidewalks and street lighting, and making storm water improvements.

The zoning changes include requirements for new business property development, notably that storefronts be brought forward, pushing parking for most buildings to the rear of properties, and reducing the minimum spaces required. 

“The whole idea is to make it more like a village,” Town Council Vice Chairwoman Bonny Rodden said. “There is this ache for a town center. People want a place to say this is where we all see each other and do business. People want a ‘there’ here. There is no central place to gather.”

The plan will be financed using property tax revenue generated from businesses along Route 1 through tax increment financing. Essentially, the TIF allows for some property taxes to be earmarked for the project that will later be used to pay off the bond if voters pass it, requiring no expected property tax increases.

One item that has received considerable attention in recent reviews of the plan is the use of medians along Route 1. Several residents and business owners have expressed concern about traffic congestion and access restrictions caused by medians, forcing the Community Development Committee, tasked with helping guide the plan, to rethink aspects of the proposal.

The medians remain in the plan, although the CDC has made adjustments, including narrowing and shortening the islands, making them flatter, and removing some altogether.

Maintaining the proposed changes along the roadway is expected to cost the town about $17,500 annually for landscaping, snow removal and general upkeep, according to town estimates.

Falmouth is one of several towns in the state contemplating similar changes in building codes and zoning. In recent months, the towns of Yarmouth, Standish and Damariscotta have made steps to alter town planning laws to encourage more village- or downtown-style development.

The thread throughout all the plans is a focus on the use of multiple modes of transportation, promoting more walking and cycling by creating more inclusive environments that are less car-centric.

Community Development Director Amanda Stearns said new Route 1 planning in Falmouth is long overdue, noting that the current ordinances were developed in the late 1980s, which followed development of the corridor in the 1950s.

“We’ve been relying on that model for too long,” she said. “This is a big step.”

If the plan is approved by the council next week, it will head to a public referendum on June 11. The Route 1 improvements are timed in coordination with state-funded repaving projects expected to begin in 2014.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.