Questions continue to dog Falmouth Center proposal

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FALMOUTH — Town councilors are concentrating on two issues as they continue to weigh a zone change for the proposed Falmouth Center mixed-use development on Route 1.

Councilors seem most concerned about how much local control they can assert over the development, particularly in terms of reducing its impact, and how the town can get the most benefit from the project.

Several councilors on Monday warned developer Jonathan Cohen that even in a best-case scenario they might find the project is too large and doesn’t fit the character of the town’s most visible commercial corridor.

Councilors Amy Kuhn, Hope Cahan and, to some extent, Aaron Svedlow, all said they have what Kuhn described as “foundational” concerns over the project that Town Manager Nathan Poore said consists of 21 new buildings and more than 1 million square feet of new floor space.

Kuhn said the message she’s been getting from residents is that “they want incremental change that’s consistent with the existing character and scale of development” along Route 1.

“I have similar concerns about the project,” Cahan said. “Many aspects do fit in with the Comprehensive Plan, but the scope seems overwhelming.”

And while Svedlow said Cohen has a right to redevelop the Falmouth Shopping Center plaza, which he purchased in partnership with Joseph Solely for $21 million last spring, he said the developer is taking “a big ask” in seeking the zone change, “which needs to be evaluated very carefully.”

Councilor Ted Asherman, however, said while he’s “anxious to minimize the impacts, especially on abutters,” he sees the project as a chance to “put together something that can be well done.”

And both Councilor Claudia King and Chairman Caleb Hemphill said under the current Village Center 1 zoning, Cohen can already do much of what he’s proposing with no oversight other than the usual site plan approval from the Planning Board.

Therefore, King said, “we need to do what’s in the best interests of the town and get the best development we can.”

Cohen is proposing a sports complex, hotel, residences, retail shops, offices, restaurants and a village green, among various other amenities, on 40 acres near the intersection of Bucknam Road and Route 1.

The development would include the Falmouth Shopping Center, as well as the 11-acre Maine Turnpike spur intersection, which is now owned by the state. The state’s goal is to eventually remove the spur overpass.

The proposed sports complex, which would include two outdoor playing fields, an indoor facility and a small administration building, is the most controversial of the proposed uses, but it’s also the anchor for the project, according to Cohen.

Seacoast United, the only announced tenant for Falmouth Center, would operate the sports complex and is seeking permission to hold nighttime events, which is one reason abutters are opposed.

Neighbors have said they fear glare from the lights and noise from the fields would negatively impact on their quality of life. There also continues to be concern over increased traffic and environmental impact.

The council was assured on Monday by Stephen Landry, the state traffic engineer, that Falmouth would have input into any traffic mitigation measures required of the developer.

As far as the visual impact, rate of development and ensuring the project meets stormwater management conditions, Ethan Croce, Falmouth’s community development director, told councilors the Planning Board has “an autonomous voice” and a great deal of latitude.

The Town Council will next discuss the project at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, when it will likely review possible creation of a new Tax Increment Financing district.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

This image shows where the sports complex in the proposed new Falmouth Center mixed-use project on Route 1 would be placed in relation to the current Falmouth Shopping Center.