Falmouth residents hope to stem development tide

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FALMOUTH — With time winding down for its completion, developers of the Tidewater Farm mixed-used neighborhood hope to revise their master plan.

Developer Nathan Bateman recently appeared before the Town Council to outline those changes. Among other things, he proposed a two-story medical center on a lot currently zoned for a commercial building, and adding 36 to 40 units of housing for residents 55 and older on another lot originally zoned for a 75-room inn.

“The tweaks are really minor tweaks,” Bateman said.

But combined with a proposal from the owners of Portland-based sports pub Rivalries for a new restaurant on Hat Trick Drive near the entrance to Tidewater, the changes are attracting opposition from Tidewater residents.

Clifford Gilpin, president of the Tidewater Farm Homeowner’s Association, said the lot where Rivalries hopes to build is only 100 feet away from the first home in the association. He said there are concerns in the association over the restaurant’s impact on the neighborhood, including traffic, parking, lights, hours of operation, and whether screening will be erected.

“One major issue is it’s a very small lot on which they proposed the restaurant for over 190 seats, and they only have 22 spaces on the lot as I understand it,” Gilpin said. “So one big question is where are those other parking spaces going to come from? Compare that with Foreside Tavern (on Route 1), which has 90 spaces for a similar-sized restaurant.”

Gilpin said representatives from Rivalries did not reach out to the association before introducing their proposal. He also said no one has seen any detailed plans from Rivalries.

He emphasized, however, that the issue is not Rivalries itself, but the proposed location. He said there is plenty of vacant commercial space throughout town that could accommodate the restaurant, including empty buildings in the nearby Wal-Mart and Shaw’s Supermarket plazas.

On Dec. 16, about 25 homeowners from the association met with Bateman to discuss his proposals for Tidewater and Rivalries. Gilpin said the meeting was cordial, and Bateman agreed to continue conversations with the association.

He also said the overwhelming feeling, however, was strong opposition to the Rivalries proposal as presented to the homeowners, and that they would take steps to challenge it.

Gilpin said while there are some concerns with the changes Bateman proposed at Tidewater, those aren’t as problematic. He said residents overall are happy with the kind of commercial development that has happened in the area.

“The proposal for a medical center is changed from original use, we have some concerns, but we’re trying to collect information because we haven’t had a discussion,” Gilpin said. “We don’t know if the building is intended for daytime use. We have some questions, and just need more info on that.”

Bateman said the medical center change is really not much different from its original zoning. The original footprint for the building would have been 8,000 square feet, which he said he wants to increase to 11,000 square feet.

He said the new medical center would provide different services than those offered by Mercy Primary Care, which already has a building in Tidewater.

Bateman also wants to add three more housing units on two lots already zoned for commercial and residential use. The first floor of each would be used for commercial space, with 10 apartments upstairs. Bateman said he is now allowed to build only three more units of housing, so he is asking for seven more. The buildings would have an 8,000-square-foot footprint.

Gilpin said there is less concern about the senior housing proposal, because people moved into the neighborhood knowing something was going to be built on the lot originally proposed for an inn.

“We’re hoping the overall impact won’t be any worse or significantly different than it was,” Gilpin said. “We have some questions about design and amount of parking, but we understood that area was going to be developed. We don’t have as many concerns about that.”

Bateman said the senior housing would have less of an impact on the neighborhood than the inn would have had, since there will be less traffic and there won’t be a restaurant component. He said the reason for the switch is that upgrades along Route 1 now make that area the most logical place for a new inn or hospitality business.

Gilpin said access remains a concern, because the only way to get to the lot is along a dirt path that will have to be upgraded to accommodate vehicles.

Bateman is asking the Town Council to for a five-year extension to the Tidewater Master Development Plan, which was approved in 2005, although he expects to complete the projects within 18 months of approval.

Tidewater, between Lunt Road and Clearwater Drive, has three components: Tidewater Village, Tidewater Farm, and the Tidewater Conservation land. Tidewater Village is designated for commercial and mixed use properties, and includes Mercy Primary Care, the University of Maine Regional Learning Center, and Osteopathic Healthcare of Maine.

Tidewater Farm has 50 single-family homes that cost an average of $700,000, according to Bateman. Gilpin said residents of Tidewater Farm are people who bought into the concept of close living in a high-quality, mixed-use neighborhood, with a considerable amount of land committed to open space.

“We’ve accomplished everything that we set out to accomplish and now we’re finalizing it,” Bateman said.

Tidewater residents, however, would like to see the developer make one more change.

Gilpin said an old farmhouse and barn at Tidewater has completely fallen into disrepair.

“I think the expectation was that the farmhouse could be rehabed and turned into some kind of compatible use, like agriculture related,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of that happened.”

Gilpin said the buildings have been neglected and vandalized.

Bateman said the farmhouse and barn have been vacant since his company took on the development, but that there is a vision for them to be repaired and put back into use.

He said the farmhouse has been pre-approved for different uses, so he would only have to go back to the Planning Board to get new site plan approval.

“It’s an area that needs to be really taken care of, but it’s been neglected,” Gilpin said. “I think that’s a shame.”

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

Sidebar Elements

A yellow marker indicates the end of the Tidewater Village Lot 4 in Falmouth. Clifford Gilpin, president of the Tidewater Farm Homeowner’s Association, said there is a concern over how close a proposed restaurant and sports bar will be to nearby homes.

Tidewater Village Lot 4, directly behind Wal-Mart and Family Ice in Falmouth, is where the owners of Rivalries are proposing to build a restaurant on Hat Trick Drive.

An old farmhouse and barn that have fallen into disrepair at Tidewater Farm in Falmouth have become concerns for residents, homeowners association President Clifford Gilpin said.

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.