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Focus shifts to Falmouth's other business centers

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Focus shifts to Falmouth's other business centers

FALMOUTH — As the town gears up for a major redesign of the Route 1 South business corridor, more attention is now being focused on the town's two other commercial centers.

Route 100 and the Business Professional District, just north of where the $11.7 million Route 1 project ends at the Maine Turnpike interchange, are home to many businesses. Both have been designated in the town's Comprehensive Plan for commercial and mixed-use growth. They share many of the same characteristics as Route 1, including large grocery stores as their anchors.

And while Route 1 has been a priority for the town for the last decade, now that the redesign is underway, the Town Council is expected to focus more energy on the development of Route 100, council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce said.

"It's sort of been on everyone's mind as long as I've been on the council," Pierce said. "The Comprehensive Plan has brought it to the forefront. We want to make sure both business corridors are humming at the levels they should be, but it's not off the ground yet."

While the town's long-term planning for the area is purposely vague, the plan calls for several potentially expensive developments, including streetscape improvements, a sewer extension to facilitate commercial expansion, and a bridge across the Pan Am rail line to access the River Point Conservation Area.

In addition, Route 100 is also one of the few areas in Falmouth that can support new non-residential growth, according to the plan.

Pierce said the development of Route 100 poses both challenges and opportunities, considering the potential for more connection of open space and the new businesses drawn by the Hannaford supermarket plaza, known as West Falmouth Crossing.

"I think it's really very opened-ended at this point and poised for a great discussion," she said. "It's exciting for residents and our neighbors, Portland and Westbrook. It's an interesting place."

Although Route 100 may be the next on the council's workbench, the town's third business district has recently raised zoning questions, too.

The Business Professional district, also known as Route 1 North, claims about 350,000 square feet of floor space for 30 businesses and offices. It, along with Route 1 South and Route 100, is a tax increment financing district.

Only new offices and professional spaces are allowed in the zone, although seven of the existing 30 businesses are nonconforming retail and service establishments that were operating before the zoning was adopted.

They include an auto and tire retail and repair center, a rug retailer, a landscaping company, and businesses like Doug Hansen's Protection Professionals.

Hansen's company, a home and business security firm, has operated out of half of his 325 Route 1 office for seven years.

He leased the other half to Core Logix, an outbound call center, until about a year ago, Hansen said. That half of the building has been empty ever since.

Hansen blames his trouble finding a tenant on the zoning.

"To have the area restricted to just office and professional use reduces the pool of renters," he said, noting that he has had other, nonconforming businesses interested in the space.

The regulations have shaped the two sections of Route 1, said Amanda Stearns, the town's community development director, noting that Route 1 South is more  for impulse-driven customers, while the north side has businesses that are more likely to be destinations.

But despite its potential and concerns from business owners like Hansen, it's not likely the council will be discussing the entire structure of the district anytime soon, Stearns said.

She said the zoning, which was developed in the 1980s, is fairly restrictive. But, Stearns said, the town can grant conditional-use permits for businesses like light manufacturing, private clubs, warehousing, hotels and motels and commercial schools, among others. 

Hansen may get some relief next month, when the council considers a minor ordinance amendment that would include additional uses.

The council will also be discussing long-term planning at its next meeting, Aug. 26, where the Long-Range Planning Committee will present the recently completed draft Comprehensive Plan. 

Councilors will host a discussion of the plan at a special meeting on Sept. 16, and are likely to set goals for a work plan that will include all of Falmouth's business districts.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.