Footprint debate continues, Council reaches compromise
FALMOUTH — Public discussion continued Monday night about proposed changes to the town ordinance limiting the footprints of new commercial property in the Route 1 business district.
At a Town Council meeting, Councilor Bonny Rodden led a presentation outlining the changes. She said the council's Community Development Committee hopes the new footprint limits will better define the character of the town, promote economic development, maintain diversity of use and discourage vacancies.
In developing the footprint limits, she said, the committee looked to other local communities and came up with a 30,000-square-foot restriction as a starting point.
But by the end of Monday's meeting, comments from residents and councilors had moved the limit to 50,000 square feet.
Parker Sowles, son of Morong Falmouth owner Bill Sowles, said that the recent expansion of his father’s business would not have been possible with the smaller limit.
“A 30,000 limit is a deterrent (for businesses) that cannot be overcome,” he said.
Councilors agreed and proposed restrictions ranging up to 90,000 square feet. Ultimately, the council settled on limiting building footprints to 50,000 square feet and capping building height at two-and-a-half stories.
“I’m trying to find a place that avoids a big retailer, which is what I think we really are trying to avoid, and helps facilitate diverse mixed use, but also creates as much flexibility as we can for the current building owners,” said Councilor Karen Farber.
According to Rodden’s presentation, 90 percent of the buildings in the Route 1 district have footprints under 15,000 square feet and 95 percent are below 30,000 square feet.
Under the revised ordinance, existing spaces exceeding the limit, such as the 52,000-square-foot former site of Shaw's supermarket, would not be affected.
Community Development Director Amanda Sterns said that if a business were to move into the old Shaw’s property, the new tenant would have the option to reuse the space as it wished, as long as it stayed within the current footprint of the building.
Sterns also said that the new ordinance would have no effect on the planned expansion of Walmart because the project has already been approved.
Councilors will vote on the revised amendment at their Oct. 10 meeting.