Businesses press Falmouth council to delay vote on size limits
FALMOUTH — The Town Council is meeting resistance from the business community on a proposed tenant footprint ordinance for the Route 1 business district.
Three heavy-hitters in the local business world – the Falmouth Cumberland Community Chamber, the Falmouth Economic Development Commission and Ben Devine, a potential buyer of the Falmouth Shopping Center – are urging the Council not to move forward with the proposed ordinance.
The ordinance would limit ground-floor tenant space to 50,000 square feet and 2 1/2 stories. It puts a 60,000-square-foot limit on grocery stores, a 50,000-square-foot limit on businesses and professional office spaces, but no limits on hotel development.
In addition to limiting tenant space, the ordinance also governs how existing space, including the vacant, 52,000-square-foot former Shaw's building at the Falmouth Shopping Center, can be redistributed to allow new tenants.
"The owners of those spaces, can get a new tenant in there with the same amount of space that exists today, but they cannot go any larger," Councilor Bonny Rodden, chairwoman of the council's Community Development Committee, said. "For example, you have the old Shaw's and you have a tenant that's willing to put in a 52,000-square-foot business there but it's more appropriate to have it at the end of a string of stores like where Lamey Wellehan is, (the ordinance) would allow that space to be moved down to the end. (You) still couldn't have more stores that exceeded the existing limit."
Opponents of the ordinance say it was hastily developed and that the council should delay a vote scheduled for Monday, Oct. 22, in favor of more discussion with businesses.
“Our board requests that the Council: a) table the proposed amendment and b) use the additional time to find a better balance between a new vision for Route 1 and the real world impacts of stricter zoning on existing and future investment in Falmouth,” said a letter from the Falmouth Cumberland Community Chamber to the council.
Devine agreed. He said that while he understands the need for land use regulations, he feels this particular ordinance was developed too quickly and without a lot of input from businesses.
He also said the revised ordinance, changed from the original proposal of 30,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet, is a completely different set of rules that the public should have another opportunity to discuss.
“I don’t know if the Town Council is going to have a vote on the ordinance, but I don’t think it has been properly vetted,” he said. “There isn’t going to be any opportunity for public dialogue. I do hope that when they put this ordinance up for a vote that there is an opportunity to speak, not just for folks who question the size of the cap.”
On Friday, Oct. 12, at a meeting with the Falmouth Cumberland Community Chamber, Rodden said the ordinance has been in the works for almost a decade.
“We held a charette in 2009 with the owners of the shopping center and the business community and residents and everyone was given a number of options,” she said. “We’ve had surveys, a number of council meetings and committee meetings and it’s finally coming to a head. Whenever something comes to a head there’s friction, but we feel it’s time.”
Councilor Teresa Peirce said the conversation about the future of Route 1 has been going on since 2002, when the planning process for Route 1 started. She said that while it is controversial, there can be a balance between what is good for Falmouth’s business community and what is appropriate for the people of Falmouth.
Jonathan Berry, president of the Falmouth Economic Development Commission – a private, non-governmental body that advocates for businesses – said the time has come for something to be done after years of study, but that this amendment does not balance the interests of business in Falmouth.
“The business community is waiting to see a new, vibrant Route 1,” he said. “The vacancies aren’t good for anyone.”
He said the tenant footprint limit is being billed as a balance of interest, but business interests are not being taken into account.
Councilor Tony Payne, a member of the Community Development Committee, agreed with Berry. He said the council is not listening to the business community.
“(The council has) not shown any interest at this point in listening to what the business community says and I am confounded,” Payne said.