Walmart gets town OK for Falmouth expansion

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FALMOUTH — The Planning Board gave final approval Tuesday night to Walmart’s plans to expand at 206 Route 1.

The new design will expand the existing 92,000-square-foot store to a 124,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter. The site plan includes a large garden section, pharmacy, and grocery store, and will require demolition of the existing Regal Cinemas.

A new bus shelter is also part of the plan.

Planning Board members expressed some concern about sidewalks, excessive signs, additional shrubbery and changes to parking lot lighting. But Walmart’s attorney, Phil Saucier, agreed to address the majority of the issues, although he drew the line at connecting a proposed sidewalk to Route 1.

Saucier and Senior Planner Ethan Croce noted that the town’s ordinances do not require Walmart to make off-site improvements.

“We’re improving our site significantly and it’s starting to be a stretch to start improving somebody else’s property,” Saucier said. “I would hate to have this slow (the process) down.”

After some debate, board members backed down on that issue and agreed to move the plan forward. They ultimately voted to approve the site plan application, with the condition that Walmart enact the other changes discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board also allowed Walmart to delay building all of its required parking immediately; to build three loading docks instead of four; to create parking aisles a foot narrower than the required width, and waived curb-cut separation requirements on Route 1.

Ben Devine, who leases the property to Walmart, said the next step is state approval of the project.

“Because the project is on a state road and (because of) the size of it, it requires approval from the Maine (Department of Environmental Protection) and Department of Transportation,” he said.

Walmart has sent those applications to the state, but generally the state will wait to review them until the project gets town approval, Devine said.

“Primarily it will be a review of traffic,” he said.

Devine said he expects to have state approval for the plans early next year. He said Walmart will probably seek construction bids in the early spring for an approximately six-month construction process.

The first step will be to demolish the movie theater.

“Regal has a lease, they’re operational. We want them there as long as we can keep them there,” Devine said.

He said he has talked to the theater company about moving somewhere else in town. But with additional competition from a new theater in Freeport, and the company’s desire to building new rather than take over existing buildings, he said he does not expect Regal to reopen in Falmouth.

Emily Guerin contributed to this report. Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.