January 16, 2013

Falmouth planners give first look at new Route 1

The concept depends on zoning changes to alter the look and feel of the Route 1 corridor.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH  Falmouth planners have released the first look at a proposal to transform an asphalt-laden corridor of Route 1 into a greener, pedestrian-friendly village center.

click image to enlarge

Falmouth planners unveiled an early vision of a revitalized Route 1 business corridor that could include landscaped medians, decorative lighting, and a heavy emphasis on pedestrian access.

Courtesy of MRLD Landscape Architecture+Urbanism

click image to enlarge

The mile stretch of road between Bucknam Road and Route 88 has been the subject of a decade of debate by town councilors, who have wrestled with how to give the town a vibrant nucleus that is neither overrun by vehicular traffic nor a pass-through for drivers bound elsewhere.

"I think all those improvements will make a huge change for Falmouth, and make it a more distinctive community, and not just a drive-through on the way to Cumberland and Yarmouth," said Bonny Rodden, who sits on the Community Development Committee that is drafting the plan, and is a Falmouth town councilor. "It will help our identity."

Although no firm cost has been set, upgrades to the roadway and sidewalks and accompanying lighting and landscaping are expected to cost close to a recent $5.6 million estimate, Rodden said.

Renderings of the future roadway show a lush center median dotted with trees to replace a turning lane. Along the roadway's edges, art deco street lamps illuminate wide sidewalks that will be peppered with street furniture and trash cans. Other improvements call for upgrades to storm drains.

Besides physical improvements, the backbone of the village concept rides on zoning changes that will require developers to fundamentally alter the look and feel of the corridor. According to the latest draft of the zoning, buildings will come closer to the road, and parking will no longer be allowed in front of storefronts. Parking restrictions will mandate fewer spaces, and the maximum building height will be raised to four stories.

One key aspect, passed last year, also limits the footprint of buildings to 50,000 square feet, deterring big-box stores.

A slate of community meetings is scheduled for the coming weeks for business owners and residents to get a closer look at the town's vision. The first will be held at 4 p.m. Jan. 28 in the Falmouth Memorial Library.

One major factor that has not been decided is whether to bury power lines that are now strung from utility poles, at a cost of about $5.18 million for the entire length of the project, according to an estimate released by the town.

Burying power lines tidies up areas above the streets, but proved too pricey -- unless citizens clamor for it, said Rodden.

"Its something that we very much need to hear from the community," she said.

The plan also calls for eliminating some vehicle entrances to business parking lots, allowing sidewalks to extend uninterrupted for longer stretches.

Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth's director of long-term planning, said the town will approach businesses to propose connecting adjacent parking lots to compensate for the lost driveway entrances, which he said will help cut down on chaotic traffic scenarios, and make the roadway more inviting to cross for pedestrians.

If all goes forward as planned, construction could be completed by August 2015, when the state Department of Transportation has agreed to repave the stretch of roadway, saving the town $750,000, Rodden said. Funding will likely come from a Tax Increment Fund, or TIF, which is a geographically designated area of businesses from which a portion of tax revenue is set aside each year for future infrastructure improvements.

The TIF allows cities to dedicate tax money to invest in an area without raising rates, Holtwijk said.

The Falmouth TIF fund currently holds $3.89 million, and is expected to net $664,000 between now and June 30, 2016, said Robert Boschen, Falmouth's director of finance. Boschen cautioned that the projections are conservative, and that more money is likely to come in.

There is a possibility of some mix of bond and TIF financing, Holtwijk said.

A vote by the town council on the spending plan could come in late March and would then go before voters in June. Zoning tweaks could be approved by the end of May, according to a projected schedule released this week.

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at: 791-6303 or at

mbyrne@mainetoday.com

 

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