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Forecaster Forum: Toward a more business-friendly Falmouth

Opinion

Forecaster Forum: Toward a more business-friendly Falmouth

The town of Falmouth has a unique opportunity right now to build upon our community’s tradition of excellence and to become a beacon of economic prosperity.

Recently, local civic and business leaders have united to offer a comprehensive plan aimed at reinvigorating the Route 1 economic corridor (“SB-1”). However, what we must all understand is that the recommendations are time sensitive.

I endorse the designation of an ad hoc task force charged with the exclusive responsibility of drafting a single SB-1 comprehensive zoning plan commensurate with the impressive amount of work that has been done to date. This task force should fairly represent the broad spectrum of interests and expertise that our town has to offer, drawing members from the Town Council, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and other vested stakeholders (including business owners and citizens).

The aim is to implement a comprehensive set of “positive” zoning ordinances, applicable to SB-1, ready for action by the council, within the first quarter of 2013. This will take full advantage of the state’s intention to repave Route 1 and capitalize on private investment opportunities.

Items requiring the task force’s immediate attention include, but are not limited to:

• Ask the state to remedy the non-uniformity of its right-of-way along Route 1, where neighboring businesses are often unfairly subjected to differing regulations.

• A Code of Ordinances that better distinguishes efforts to regulate future growth and fosters existing businesses. Also, to the extent possible, regulations should affirm, in the clearest terms possible, what is permissible, rather than list ambiguous restrictions.

• Reward business investment and exempt local businesses from certain ordinances deemed to be unduly burdensome, particularly when proposed improvements relate exclusively to cosmetics or are relatively small in scope. Any small business owner committed to embracing local design standards should be encouraged to invest in our community as seamlessly and inexpensively as possible.

• Streamline the permitting and approval processes. If these efforts are successful and a clearly articulated set of ordinances are in place, then all but a relatively small portion of projects should be pre-permitted and/or capable of breaking ground via an inexpensive and timely “staff-level approval” process.

• Infrastructure and development standards. The strength of this effort will come from investment in critical infrastructure, which must enjoy broad-based support, in the community, to be successful. This effort will require a thorough appreciation by all concerned partners, of precisely what is required and who will be responsible for implementation – financially and otherwise. This is perhaps the single most important conversation that must be conducted between municipal leaders and the private sector.

• Immediate passage of progressive footprint and design standards that include simplified and fee-reduced pre-permitting and partial pre-permitting processes within established footprint guidelines will encourage and expedite business investment and economic prosperity along Route 1.

A complete set of design standards whereby new commercial development proposals, up to 30,000 square feet, would be pre-permitted, under a zero-setback formula, increases the likelihood of private investment in the present vision of a “village atmosphere.”

Similarly, proposed commercial development proposals between 30,001 and 60,000 square feet should have a graduated set of clearly articulated positive design standards, together with a streamlined “staff-level approval” process.

Thereafter, any unforeseen projects that would bring a unique opportunity to Falmouth would be subjected to a more rigorous set of design standards, subject to full Planning Board approval.

Under this approach the combined effect of the ordinance structure encourages and rewards smart growth, but does not render the possibility of unforeseen and unique opportunities impossible, leaving open the possibility for the “right” partnership, when and if it presents itself.

I believe these recommendations encourage the type of “smart growth” that our community requires. This form of progressive economic development benefits all, and the time is now. Let us build upon our tradition of excellence to also become a premier economic destination. A thriving economy necessarily rewards our collective community interests.

Falmouth resident Jonathan Berry is president of the private, non-governmental Falmouth Economic Development Commission, and a partner in the Portland law firm of Berry & Dion.