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Councilors defend divider proposed for Route 1 in Falmouth

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Councilors defend divider proposed for Route 1 in Falmouth

FALMOUTH — Town councilors heard from the public for the third time about Route 1 infrastructure and zoning changes at a special meeting March 27.

Members of the Community Development Committee updated residents on changes to the Route 1 infrastructure and zoning plans, which include the installation of underground power lines.

Councilor Teresa Pierce presented proposed changes to the zoning ordinances, which will be voted on by the council in May. She said the proposed amendments will slightly change zoning districts.

Village Center 1 will run from Fundy Road to Bucknam Road, while Village Center 2 goes from Route 88 to Fundy Road. A third district, called Village Center Civic, will include the library and Legion Field, to “clean up” the lines of the districts, Pierce said.

Some of the requirements of the new zoning amendments include setback requirements, parking restrictions, building access, sign ordinances and storm-water runoff improvements. Pierce said these changes will allow business owners to more fully use their properties and expand their businesses.

“Zoning and infrastructure go hand in hand with promoting our business district,” she said. “(The plan is) really exhilarating and gives flexibility to business owners while honoring the needs and wants of the community.”

Councilor Bonny Rodden presented proposed infrastructure changes which now include underground power lines, a move that brings the cost of the project up to $11.7 million, to be covered by the established tax increment financing district.

Five residents spoke during the public forum and were generally in support of the project. However, some raised questions about medians, financing through the TIF and cost.

Michael Doyle, who supports underground power and the TIF financing, disagreed with the installation of medians. He said they would create backups for traffic trying to make left turns.

He asked the council what would happen when cars line up waiting to make a turn, and whether that would stop traffic on the rest of Route 1. He said that putting in the medians and possibly having to remove them down the road would be a waste of $700,000.

Kathy Smith of Lunt Road agreed with Doyle.

“I am very frustrated as a taxpayer to (possibly) pay to put these things in and then take them out,” Smith said. “I don’t approve of having median strips at all.”

Councilor Tony Payne responded by saying the flow of traffic through intersections at Route 1 would be better managed than it currently is because traffic lights would be synchronized.

He also said many the proposed median strips have already been removed from the plan and the ones left contain crosswalks and would serve as pedestrian refuge. The medians will also prevent cars from travelling in the “suicide lane” until vehicles reach their desired left turn, Payne said.

Russ Anderson asked for clarification on the TIF funding.

Funding for the project will come directly from the established TIF fund, but the fund in question expires in 2020. The town has asked the state for an extension of the TIF to 2030 and Rodden said she expects the extension to be approved.

"Is the cart before the horse?" Anderson asked. "If the state says 'I don't think so' and we already have a referendum question that is cast in concrete, what is the contingency plan?"

Pierce said the council expects to hear a response from the state in May, but if the approval does not come through, the referendum is written so that without the extended TIF funding, the project would be postponed.

"I am not willing to risk that type of expenditure without fully being guaranteed by the state," she said. 

A fourth public hearing on the zoning and infrastructure improvements to Route 1 will be held April 22. The council will vote on the zoning changes in May and the public will have its say on the infrastructure improvements in a June 11 referendum.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.