‘We don’t need any of this here’: Foreside residents oppose Falmouth Center project

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FALMOUTH — Light and noise pollution, traffic congestion and environmental impacts are among the concerns some Foreside residents and others have about the proposed Falmouth Center mixed-use project.

“We are not anti-business or anti-development in any way,” Jane Begert, spokeswoman for the neighbors said this week. “We think a village center with mixed uses as defined in the current (Comprehensive Plan) will be positive for the residents and businesses of Falmouth. The development proposed, however, does not conform to the existing zoning in terms of the scale and uses.”

As proposed by developers Jonathan Cohen and Joseph Soley, the goal of the project would be to create a lifestyle center that includes a hotel, sports complex, residential housing, restaurants and a village green and pedestrian promenade, among other uses.

Cohen and Soley, who purchased the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1 in mid-March, would use that property as the cornerstone for the new development, which would spread north toward the Maine Turnpike spur.

In all, the project would add more than 400,000 square feet of new development on about 40 acres near the intersection of Bucknam Road and Route 1.

The proposed sports complex, which would include two outdoor turf fields and one indoor field with an associated administration building, requires a zone change from the Town Council. That is the portion of the project that’s currently under review.

On Tuesday, after The Forecaster’s deadline, the Planning Board was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the zone change, which would expand the current Village Center 1 zone to accommodate the outdoor fields.

The Planning Board will make a recommendation to the Town Council about the zone change, which councilors could review on July 9 or July 23.

In an interview last week, Cohen said he’s already made concessions to assuage the concerns expressed by the Foreside residents, including moving the proposed fields and athletic building to increase the distance from both the abutters and a small stream.

He’s also pledging to maintain many of the trees that buffer the neighbors from the Falmouth Shopping Center, and said effective stormwater management would be a top priority.

But that’s not enough for the abutters, who are disturbed by what they consider the speed at which Cohen and the town are moving, particularly on the zone change needed for the sports complex.

During a public forum last week, Cohen said Seacoast United, the only announced tenant for the Falmouth Center project, would need the outdoor fields ready by next April, and the indoor facility ready by fall 2019.

Cohen has repeatedly said without this anchor, the viability of the entire project is at stake. At the June 25 public forum, he also said that if the development is turned down “likely nothing would happen there for another 30 years.”

Begert this week said the neighbors are calling on “the Town Council to respect the existing zoning plan and … (to) carefully and thoughtfully examine all aspects of this proposed development.”

“A development of this scale needs to be reviewed thoughtfully and deliberately by the town,” she said. “The Town Council (also) needs to perform due diligence to determine if Seacoast United is a good fit for the Falmouth community.”

As a group, she said, the neighbors are committed to various forms of both direct and indirect advocacy, from writing letters to newspapers, to showing up at public hearings, to contacting town councilors and to reaching out to the wider Falmouth community.

“We are hoping that people will attend meetings about the project, listen to the council’s deliberations, speak at public meetings and ask questions,” Begert said.

Another Foreside resident, Neal Kolterman, introduced a video presentation at the public forum, which outlined everything he feels is wrong with the Falmouth Center proposal.

Kolterman this week said one of the primary reasons he’s opposed to the project is that much of the development site is composed of the “last, large undeveloped parcel in the area.”

“It’s home to so much wildlife, (such as) deer, moose, great blue heron, a bald eagle, turkeys, fox, wildcats, and more,” he said. In addition, “there’s a tidal estuary that leads into Casco Bay (where) I’ve seen seals swimming. Aside from the peaceful views and natural setting, it also buffers all of Route 88 from the noise and light coming from Route 1 and Interstate 295.”

Threats to waterways

The neighbors are not the only ones worried about the impact on the environment, particularly the two waterways that abut the development site, Mill Creek and Mussel Cove.

Ivy Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper with the Friends of Casco Bay, said this week that “Our concern is that this development, as presented, will impermissibly degrade the water quality of Mill Creek and Mussel Cove (and thereby) Casco Bay.”

“We have observed signs of stress (at Mussel Cove) over the years (and) we do not know how much more stormwater pollution (either of) these waterbodies can receive without becoming impaired, but suspect they should receive no more pollution,” she said.

Frignoca said water bodies listed as threatened on the state’s nonpoint source pollution priority list are not yet impaired, “but are at risk of becoming impaired. The goal is to prioritize these waterbodies to receive funding to improve water quality and prevent impairment.”

In addition, once Mill Creek and Mussel Cove become impaired, “the town likely will be responsible for spending large sums of money to restore water quality, which could be virtually impossible in light of the large increase in stormwater pollution from this development,” Frignoca said.

Overall, “we believe that any acceptable stormwater management plan for the (Falmouth Center) development should strive for a net zero increase in stormwater pollution, should include monitoring and testing to ensure that the development is not increasing the pollution load to the receiving waters, and must include an ongoing maintenance plan with compliance reports,” she said.

What Kolterman and his neighbors most appreciate about where they live, he said, is that “I can walk out my back door into near total silence and privacy, and go for a walk along the stream. One of my favorites spots is on a hillside overlooking Mill Creek, which is proposed to become a soccer field.”

Speaking for himself, he said the only way the developers could make the proposed Falmouth Center more palatable would be to “shrink the project in scale or not build it at all.”

What he and his neighbors want, Kolterman said, is “no sports fields, fewer buildings, no hotel. We don’t need any of this here. Portland is seven minutes away, where these amenities are plentiful.”

“We want more traffic studies, noise and light studies, environmental studies, public hearings, and we want the council to slow down and not rush based on the developers’ time-line,” he said.

“Traffic on Route 1 is already far too congested (and) traffic on Route 88 is far too busy, as well. Lighting and noise from the sports arena will be seen and heard. Our woods and Meadow Creek will be greatly impacted. Our neighborhood will never be the same.”

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

Mussel Cove estuary is one of two water bodies in Falmouth that could be impaired if nonpoint source pollution from the proposed Falmouth Center mixed-use project is allowed to run off into Casco Bay.

Some of the homes in the Foreside neighborhood that abut the proposed Falmouth Center project.

Falmouth Foreside resident Neal Kolterman appears in a video to show “how sensitively close the proposed site and unnecessary sports field (proposed for Falmouth Center) are to my neighborhood.”

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