January 12, 2011

Falmouth council's zoning decision backs Walmart expansion

Walmart now has to submit plans for the expansion, which would include a full-service grocery store.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

It appears more likely than ever that Walmart will be allowed to expand its Falmouth store into space now occupied by Regal Entertainment Group's cinema.

The Falmouth Town Council reached consensus this week that it will not support a proposed zoning change that would limit retail stores to a footprint of 75,000 square feet. That change would prevent Walmart from expanding.

Walmart, on Route 1 near Depot Road, now has a chance to submit its expansion plan to the town's Planning Board and the state before taking over the space occupied by its next door neighbor, Regal Cinemas.

Regal, which operates 10 movie screens, and Walmart are the major tenants of the Falmouth Plaza.

"We certainly are not going to stand in the way of Walmart expanding their current operations," said council Chairman Tony Payne. "We felt it was important to be as clear as possible, because Walmart is a valued corporate citizen that serves as an anchor to the entire retail district" along Route 1.

Last month, after years of speculation, Walmart officials confirmed that the company is ready to expand its store in Falmouth. To do that, it would have to tear down the cinema and build an addition to its store.

Walmart spokesman Daniel Morales estimated that Walmart would hire 30 to 50 additional workers for jobs with full benefits.

Ben Devine, a partner in Middle Deer Associates, which owns the Falmouth Plaza, said his company has reached an early termination agreement with Regal that would allow Walmart to expand into Regal's space before its lease expires in 2015.

Devine said permits from the town and state must be secured before anything can happen. He said Walmart has told him that it would like to open a full-service grocery store at its Falmouth location.

Even if the expansion is built, the Falmouth store will not be as large as some other Walmarts in Maine. The Walmart in Brunswick is 165,000 square feet; Falmouth's new store would be 125,000 square feet, Levine said.

Mike Skillin, co-owner of Skillin's Greenhouses on Route 88 in Falmouth, wrote a letter to the council in support of Walmart's expansion.

Though Skillin's would prefer that Walmart not have a garden center, he said, Walmart benefits all of the businesses in the Route 1 shopping district because of the traffic that it draws.

Town officials are concerned about losing the cinema complex. Town Manager Nathan Poore said he will investigate whether there is an opportunity for Regal to occupy vacant space in a building next to Shaw's Supermarket, at the nearby Falmouth Shopping Plaza on Route 1.

There also is an undeveloped parcel next to that vacant building.

Attempts to reach a spokesman for Regal Cinemas on Tuesday were unsuccessful.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com


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