FALMOUTH — As the owners of the Falmouth Shopping Center began advertising for tenants to fill vacant storefronts and possibly develop 28 acres of land around the Route 1 center, the Community Development Committee offered opinions to the Town Council about the future of the shopping center.
“We want to create a walkable area, small-scale, and to protect the natural resources,” Councilor Bonny Rodden said.
Rodden, who sits on the council sub-committee, said that throughout this process the owners of the development, JPA Corp., a Boston-based company that manages several Radisson hotels and more than 15 shopping centers in New England, have worked closely with the town and have been very receptive to the community’s ideas for the area.
“I think it’s been a very healthy experience working with them,” Rodden said.
In November, the town hosted a charette and invited community members, neighbors and other stakeholders to share ideas and vote on a variety of options for the shopping center. The poll results of approximately 65 attendees at the charette were later posted on the town’s Web site, where more than 300 people also weighed in.
Participants overwhelming rejected the idea that stores larger than 90,000 square feet should be allowed in the shopping center (for comparison, the Wal-Mart on Route 1 is 93,000 square feet). They also did not want to see automobile dealerships go into the space. They favored creating walkable areas, some mixed uses and a maximum height requirement.
“They gave us a set of guidelines. We’ll take the guidelines and test the market, see if there’s interest, see what we can bring to the town,” said Andrew Gilmore, who represents JPA.
The Community Development Committee agreed with some of the poll findings, including limiting the height and creating walkable spaces. Rodden said she has been looking at developments in Massachusetts and California for ideas and the committee has been trying to think outside the box.
“We don’t want this to be a normal shopping center,” she said.
Rodden described a shopping center she saw in California, where the buildings were up against the street and there were inset roads parallel to the main road, which encouraged pedestrian traffic.
“The market may show that’s a great fit,” Gilmore said. “We don’t know yet.”
He explained that 10 years ago limited setbacks were unpopular, and shopping center designs favored large parking lots with the stores set in the rear. Now, towns are pushing for village-style storefronts that face the road.
“It hearkens back to what architecture used to be. We’re trending back to an older style of construction,” he said.
Gilmore said the company’s top priority right now is to fill the vacant spaces, like the old Shaw’s building. He said Shaw’s still has a lease on the building, so any new occupant must meet several requirements, including a non-compete clause, before it can be filled.
Before new construction can begin in the undeveloped land, the area will have to be rezoned. It is not zoned for retail or mixed use, both of which, Gilmore said, JPA wants to pursue.
“We can’t recreate the community, but we can make it a lot easier to walk around. Right now, you risk your life walking across Route 1. It doesn’t have to be that way,” Rodden said.
Should the owners decide to expand the shopping center into the undeveloped acreage, it is likely the Falmouth Land Trust would get involved. The Falmouth Nature Preserve, which is managed by the Land Trust, abuts the property, and could potentially be impacted by further development in the area.
“The question will be, how far do you let a developer go before it impacts runoff?” said Falmouth Land Trust President John Adelman.
Adelman also expressed concerns about light pollution. New developments can impact neighbors and wildlife with lighted signs and parking lot lights.
However, Adelman said he is confident that any proposed plans for further development of the area would go through the proper channels and that all aspects of the plan would be considered before it was approved.
“We’re not out there chaining ourselves to bulldozers,” he said. “We have to work with the developers.”
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org