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Falmouth council sends Route 1 redesign to voters

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Falmouth council sends Route 1 redesign to voters

FALMOUTH — In the final vote before a public referendum in June, the Town Council on Monday approved a comprehensive overhaul of the Route 1 business corridor.

Councilors praised the plan and urged voters to approve the $11.7 million needed to implement the changes.

"This is something that will have a monumental effect on the business district along Route 1," Councilor Bonny Rodden said, for the next 40 years.

The plan is intended to create a more village-like feel along the corridor and to encourage multiple forms of transportation.

If the bond is passed, some of the more immediate visible changes will include buried utility lines, landscaped medians, new sidewalks and street lights, and storm water management improvements.

The zoning changes include requirements for new business property development, notably that storefronts be brought forward, toward the street, pushing parking to the rear of most properties, and reducing the minimum number of required parking spaces.

Rodden said the referendum question is the last hurdle for the project, and emphasized that it will create no expected property tax increases.

Construction will be financed using property tax revenue generated from Route 1 businesses through tax increment financing. Essentially, the TIF allows for some property taxes to be earmarked for the project and used to pay off the bond – if voters approve the spending.

"The bottom line is that people need to understand it's not going to cost them anything," Rodden said.

As the business district develops, councilors said they expect it to create a more robust buisness tax base, placing less of a burden on residential property taxpayers.

The medians on Route 1 will be one of the most immediate and visible feature of the new plan.

Several residents, business owners and councilors expressed concern about traffic congestion and access restrictions the islands could cause, which forced the Community Development Committee to revise that portion of the original proposal.

The committee narrowed and shortened the islands, making them flatter, and in some places removed them entirely.

Maintaining the proposed changes along the roadway is expected to cost about $17,500 annually for landscaping, snow removal and general upkeep, according to town estimates.

Falmouth is one of several towns in the state contemplating similar changes in building codes and zoning to encourage more village- or downtown-style development in commercial districts.

All the plans place a significant focus on using multiple modes of transportation, shifting away from the mentality that vehicle travel is the top priority. The Route 1 plan is intended to promote more walking and cycling by creating more inclusive environments more suitable and safe for all forms of transportation.

Rodden, chairwoman of the CDC, said the new design will make things easier for pedestrians.

"It's more likely pedestrians will be able to use the whole district for once and not have to be concerned for their life," she said, referring to the lack of safe walking areas and poorly designed turning lanes on Route 1.

The public referendum will be on June 11. If approved, the Route 1 improvements are scheduled in coordination with state-funded repaving projects expected to begin in 2014.

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