FALMOUTH — A large crowd packed the Town Council Chambers on Jan. 13 to discuss what should be in the town’s first economic development plan.
The forum was was the first opportunity for the public to contribute ideas, and according to Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long range planning, it won’t be the last.
He began the forum by saying “there is no single answer” to what residents want to see in a plan looking a decade ahead.
Jim Damicis, senior vice president of Camoin Associates, which will be paid $40,000 for consulting work, said data gathered by the firm isn’t “supposed to give answers,” but should get people thinking.
Damicis urged people to think locally when considering economic development, about what Falmouth should specifically do, rather than trying to take on more national or global problems.
“In some form or another think about things that effect the economy,” he said.
There was significant discussion about what kind of town Falmouth should be: an urban destination, a bedroom community, or a retail center dominated by box-stores.
Sam Hirsh, who owns TripQuipment at 256 U.S. Route 1, said he didn’t want to see a “bunch of big boxes” on Route 1, but recognized it is a commercial zone and thoroughfare.
“We have to figure out how to best use what’s already there,” Hirsh said, adding the focus should be on “key properties.”
David Stone, former president of CashStar and one of the individuals interviewed by Camoin, said large, vacant retail spaces like the old Regal Cinemas and Shaw’s Supermarket should be turned into space for a handful of smaller businesses.
Holly Malloy, vice president of the G.L Roberts & Co., which represents Wal-Mart, said zoning ordinances have left them “paralyzed” in making repairs or changes along Route 1.
“We are demographically challenged in Maine, but the zoning code has priced us out,” she said.
She said ordinances dissuade potential tenants from even looking at available spaces in Falmouth, and the vacancies are a “black eye” on the town.
Perhaps a town like Falmouth, with it’s population of less than 12,000, “isn’t the right place for these stores, maybe the demand isn’t there,” she said.
Damicis said it’s “not up to Falmouth to be everything to everybody,” but there is a need to address the changing demographics of the town, and its rising population of seniors.
Town Councilor Claudia King, who is on the Community Development Committee, said the ideas mentioned at the forum were all things that had been discussed with the CDC, and said she would “love to see an effort” to get more “25- to 45-year-olds to live and work” in Falmouth.
“If there were affordable places to live and work to be done, I think (younger people) would be fine here,” she said.