Walmart on track for Falmouth expansion

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FALMOUTH — Walmart’s proposed expansion project has moved into the final steps of the design process, after receiving feedback from town staff and the Planning Board at a meeting Tuesday evening.

Senior Planner Ethan Croce said in his review of the site plan for the 206 Route 1 store that the proposed expansion would trigger Route 1 and Village Center design guidelines aimed at keeping construction along the corridor pedestrian-friendly and encouraging a village-center feel.

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

The store’s expansion plans come after the town’s Community Development Committee proposed limiting the footprint of structures in the Route 1 village area earlier this year. 

Around the same time, a survey of residents and business owners found that 63 percent of the 332 respondents favored maximum footprint limits in the business district, while only 28.6 percent did not.

The council has never acted on the CDC proposal.

Tuesday night, Croce and the Planning Board requested some additional information from Walmart in response to answers the company provided after the last Planning Board review in July, including clarification on parking lot lighting, landscaping, traffic patterns and signs.

Company representatives took issue with the board’s request for reduced lighting in the parking lot.

“This is a level Walmart is not comfortable with, just for the record,” Walmart attorney Philip Saucier said. “We have staff working there sometimes 24 hours a day. Walmart has serious safety concerns. They’ve had problems around the country.”

He said if the Planning Board does not allow more lighting, the company will file a letter indicating they do not approve of the levels, but would move forward “under protest.”

“The chance for litigation is huge. I don’t want to take that risk,” said lighting engineer Colin Hewett, of Winthrop-based Hewett & Whitney Engineers, which designed the lighting for the store.

“The main reason for the low level at night in our ordinance, is because of the surrounding area. You don’t want to end up with a big blast of light on Route 1,” Planning Board Chairman Bill Lunt said. “I understand the safety issues.”

Lunt indicated he would be willing to allow increased lighting up to what is recommended by an industry standard for safety, but not as much as Walmart has requested.

Town Councilor Bonny Rodden spoke briefly during the public comment portion of the meeting, asking the board to allow Walmart to build a bus shelter on the town’s right of way on Clearwater Drive.

“I can’t speak for the council as an entity, but I can say that the critical objections (to building the bus shelter in the right of way) was that some councilors didn’t want the town to have to pay for the bus shelter or for the town to have to maintain it,” Rodden said.

Croce said he and Walmart representatives would work on finding a way to keep the bus shelter in the right of way, but also so that Walmart would be responsible for its construction and maintenance.

He said Walmart would move forward with a final version of its site plan after the state’s Informed Growth Act, which was overturned by the Legislature earlier this year, officially expires at the end of September.

The Informed Growth Act, enacted in 2007, required big-box stores to complete studies on traffic and economic impact and to hold public hearings before expanding or building in any Maine community. It was repealed last spring amid concerns that it was stifling economic growth.

Saucier said the company hopes to have its final application filed in time to go before the board for final site plan approval on Oct. 4.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.