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Route 1 discussion picks up steam in Falmouth

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Route 1 discussion picks up steam in Falmouth

FALMOUTH — After nearly a decade of discussion about the future of the Route 1 corridor, there may finally be movement forward.

The Community Development Committee will begin discussing a Route 1 South Infrastrucutre Plan report about existing conditions during a meeting Thursday, April 5, at 8 a.m. in the second floor conference room at Town Hall.

The technical document that will be reviewed by the committee was prepared by T.Y. Lin International, MRLD and Woodard & Curran using nearly $28,000 allocated by the Town Council.

"This is the first piece of the puzzle," said Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth's director of long range planning.

The next piece of the puzzle is analyzing the future of the corridor that serves as a center of business activity for the town and developing concept plans to show what the area may eventually look like.

Concept plans for the corridor – Route 1 from the intersection with Route 88 to the Maine Turnpike spur – will be developed by the CDC and forwarded to the Town Council by July. Those plans could include anything from allowing businesses to build closer to sidewalks to foster a downtown feel, to adding parallel parking along the road, to creating an esplanade with trees down the center of Route 1.

Holtwijk said the discussion about the Route 1 corridor is a continuation of work that has been done for nearly a decade. The Town Council in 2002 formed the Route 1 Corridor Committee to look at land use patterns, community design and traffic volume.

The intent was to turn the corridor "from an automobile-based suburban service center to a pedestrian-friendly, pedestrian-scaled New England village center," according to a report summarizing the work of the committee.

After more than two years of work, the committee developed a report, "Falmouth Village Center: Proposed Zoning Amendments," which was forwarded to the Town Council. The committee recommended abandoning a single-use business zone in favor of separate zones to "encourage the diverse mix of uses that is essential to a vibrant community."

Holtwijk said the recommendations were never acted on by the council.

"We think it's because there was some disagreement about which direction to take with Route 1," he said.

By 2007, there was interest among town councilors in picking up the shelved study and seeing if the recommendations could be finalized, Holtwijk  said.

"The sense by councilors was a lot of good work had gone into it," he said. "Since 2007, the town has been working off and on on this Route 1 project."

Now, Holtwijk said, the project "has evolved to become two distinct, but parallel efforts:" the infrastructure plan and Route 1 zoning amendments. The CDC will discuss and develop both efforts before making recommendations to the Town Council.

"The council has said we want to make sure we have thought about how this corridor can and should change in the future. The council certainly understands these changes don't happen overnight," Holtwijk said. "This community does not want to rest on its laurels. It wants to continue to seek out improvements that meet the needs of the residents and the businesses."

Councilor Tony Payne, chairman of the CDC, said committee members want to look at ways to create a thoroughfare that is more pedestrian friendly, fosters economic activity and "is appealing in a way that it doesn't look like every town in the state."

Zoning amendments to be considered would reduce setbacks to allow businesses to build close to sidewalks, creating a more urban feel. Payne said the committee may also look at ways to move the roadway closer to businesses for a more uniform and rapid transition to a village design.

Also up for discussion is the idea of encouraging developers to build up to create housing above businesses, Payne said. However, he said he wants to avoid "mini sprawl" and recognizes that many residents enjoy the semi-rural character of Falmouth.

"I look at that corridor as a vital artery," he said. "My vision is to make whatever occurs there to not create arterial blockage. I don't want Falmouth to have a heart attack."

Payne said an important part of the process will be engaging stakeholders, most significantly business owners along the corridor. He said that will involve inviting them to look at various scenarios the committee will develop and discussing how they would effect business.

"If they don't want anything to change, we need to hear that as well," he said.

Holtwijk said people outside Falmouth are keeping an eye on the plans as they progress, including officials working on planning efforts on Route 1 in Scarborough and Yarmouth, and Route 302 in Windham.

"It's a big undertaking that other town are paying attention to," he said.

A tentative schedule for the Route 1 project  calls for the CDC to review concept options by the end of April, select a preferred option in early May and reach out to the business community by the end of May. A final review of a complete concept plan package is expected in late June to allow a council review in early July.

All public documents related to the plan are available on the Community Development Committee page of the town website.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.