Falmouth to seek public opinion about use of Route 88 land

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FALMOUTH — The town will seek public input on what to do with a vacant parcel of land on Route 88.

The 3.3-acre piece of property at 260 Foreside Road, also known as the Brown property, was purchased by the town in 2007; a house on the property was later razed.

The property abuts Underwood Park, and the town initially purchased the parcel to use for parking, but that plan was never pursued due to lack of interest. 

According to town documents, following meetings in 2009 and 2010, the town decided to not take any action about the property and revisit the discussion at another time.

The town also had a parking study done in the area. At a Nov. 22 meeting of the ad hoc committee formed to come up with recommendations for the parcel, Director of Long Range Planning Theo Holtwijk said the parking study found there were only issues with parking on Saturdays during boating season, since the property is close to Town Landing. The study found there were no parking issues on weekdays.

The committee has been charged to come back to the Town Council at some point with a recommendation about how to solicit public input to allow the council to make a decision about the property.

Councilor Charlie McBrady, who is chairman of the committee, said limiting the scope of the conversation could be beneficial. He said in 2009, when the town last sought public input, neighbors who attended the meetings had a variety of ideas, including open space, incorporating the parcel into Underwood Park, and building basketball and tennis courts.

“If we go to the public, we don’t want it to be a free-for-all,” McBrady said.

Town Manager Nathan Poore suggested the committee could come to the council with a short list of ideas to see if councilors are interested in narrowing the scope for the public. Poore said ideas could include preserving the open feel of the parcel, but allowing for the possibility of grass paver parking for overflow.

There had been discussions about the possibility of putting some portion of the property up for sale, but members of the subcommittee were not interested.

McBrady said there aren’t a lot of places for people to play in the area, and the parcel gets frequent use. Councilor Ned Kitchel, who lives in the neighborhood, said he hadn’t heard from any of his neighbors there is a desire to sell the land for any kind of development.

“It’s a nifty piece of property,” Kitchel said.

Kitchel, also a member of the committee, said after looking at the parking survey he thought the town doesn’t have “an acute problem” in that area. So he suggested a “less is best” approach.

Committee members indicated a residential survey may be the best way to gather public input on the parcel, as well as allowing public comment at council meetings.

Poore said unlike 2009, proposals that don’t really change the look of the parcel would generate less public attention. He said if plans for the parcel keep it similar to how it is today, the simplified public input process – versus something like a charette – could work.

Kitchell said he didn’t “anticipate radical changes” to the property. 

The subcommittee presented its recommendation for a public input process to the council on Nov. 28; the council will likely vote on an order at its Dec. 12 meeting.

In January, the council will likely discuss preferences for uses or improvements to the area. The town would then likely send out an online survey to neighborhood residents to get feedback. There would also be opportunities for public input at the council meetings.

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

Falmouth will seek public input about what to do with a vacant piece of property abutting Underwood Park on Route 88.

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.