October 10, 2012

Falmouth considers 50,000-square-foot businesses on Rt. 1

The new cap would still block big-box stores, but allow developers "enough flexibility to attract businesses that fit the character of Falmouth," a town councilor says.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH -- The Town Council is considering a larger business-size limit for the town's Route 1 commercial corridor, in response to growing opposition to its initial effort to ban additional big-box stores from the area.

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The council increased the proposed limit on the ground-floor area of allowed commercial uses from 30,000 to 50,000 square feet, after business leaders and Planning Board members opposed the lower cap.

Still, the revised limit is less than the 90,000-square-foot cap that some councilors and business leaders would prefer, said Councilor Bonny Rodden, chairwoman of the council's Community Development Committee.

"A 90,000-square-foot limit wouldn't really limit anything or help move us toward the village atmosphere we're trying to create along Route 1," Rodden said Monday.

"A 50,000-square-foot limit fits the comfort zone for a majority of the council," Rodden said. "It blocks big-box stores and allows developers enough flexibility to attract businesses that fit the character of Falmouth."

Rodden noted that Yarmouth and Brunswick have adopted 50,000-square-foot ground-floor limits.

The council will hold a workshop on the proposal during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The Route 1 business district now has no size limit for commercial buildings, which allowed Walmart's planned expansion from 92,000 to 124,000 square feet at 206 Route 1.

Last week, the Planning Board gave Walmart a one-year extension for the site plan approval it granted a year ago, said Ben Devine, a partner in the company that owns the Falmouth Plaza, where Walmart operates.

A major concern in developing new zoning for the commercial corridor is the 216,000-square-foot Falmouth Shopping Center, at 251 Route 1.

The center has several vacancies, including a 52,000-square-foot former Shaw's supermarket space that has been empty since 2005. That's when Shaw's moved to a renovated 72,000-square-foot space in the same shopping center. Shaw's lease on its former location expired this year.

Now, the shopping center's ownership by JPA Management of Braintree, Mass., is in transition for the first time since it was built in the 1960s. Devine, a principal of Devine Capital in Boston, said he is negotiating to buy the center in partnership with WP Realty in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Devine said a 50,000-square-foot cap would limit his ability to draw a national retailer for the former Shaw's space and increase foot traffic, as desired by many business owners.

Devine would prefer a 90,000-square-foot limit, he said, and he's willing to work with town officials to draft a Route 1 zoning proposal that would benefit the town, property owners and developers.

Devine referred to a 2009 community meeting and online survey on the future of the shopping center that involved about 365 residents -- 65 at the meeting and 300 in the survey.

About 83 percent of the people at the meeting and 59 percent of the online respondents said individual buildings should be limited to 90,000 square feet, according to a report on the event and the survey.

However, 76 percent of the meeting participants and 49 percent of online respondents said large-scale retail uses greater than 75,000 square feet shouldn't be allowed, according to the report.

Last year, the council advised the Community Development Committee to consider a 90,000-square-foot limit in the Route 1 commercial corridor, Rodden said. Now, only two of seven councilors, Tony Payne and Faith Varney, support the larger cap.

"I want to give the developer who's risking his capital the opportunity to make the project successful in a way that's sustainable," Payne said Monday.

Donna Williams, owner of The Book Review, was one of about a dozen tenants in the shopping center who signed a petition, submitted to the council last month, asking for flexibility in the way existing retail space is divided.

Williams noted that if a retailer wanted to lease the former Shaw's space and take over other vacant space in the shopping center, the 50,000-square-foot limit would prevent it.

"I understand not wanting to encourage big-box retail," Williams said Monday. "But our feeling is, the space is already here. However it was divided up years ago shouldn't be cast in stone."

Motels, hotels, cell towers, public utilities and outdoor sales and storage operations would be allowed in the Route 1 commercial corridor without a footprint limit, Rodden said.

Grocery stores could be as large as 60,000 square feet.

The council on Wednesday also will consider a resolution to oppose a citizen-initiated referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot that would end Metro bus service, as well as a proposal to sell the former Pleasant Hill Fire Station property for $127,000. 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, to reflect that motels, hotels, cell towers, public utilities and outdoor sales and storage operations would be allowed in the Route 1 commercial corridor without a footprint limit.

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Today's poll: Big-box stores

Is it reasonable for towns to try to limit ‘big box’ development?

Yes

No

View Results