FALMOUTH — Town councilors expressed preliminary support last week for a proposed contract zone that would allow a large residential and commercial development off Route 100 in West Falmouth.

But there are still details that need to be worked out, and before the contract zone receives final approval there will have to be further refining of the concept, councilors said.

The draft proposal now goes to the Planning Board for its review and recommendations on March 6.

The council would then take public comment on the development at its March 12 meeting, and schedule a formal public hearing for March 26.

Developer David Chase’s plans have evolved from his original proposal, but he’s still asking for permission to build more than 150 residential units on a 52-acre parcel bound by Mountain Road, Route 100 and the Maine Turnpike.

The development would include a mix of single-family and multifamily units, as well as at least one three-story commercial building that could also include housing.

To qualify for a contract zone, a developer must show that the project fits in with the Comprehensive Plan and the underlying zoning, along with providing a public benefit that otherwise would not exist.

The West Falmouth project is the first to be considered under Falmouth’s relatively new contract zoning rules, which is why councilors said they want to allow as much public comment as possible.

But no public comment was allowed last Monday, because councilors wanted to work through the elements included in the contract on their own to make sure they understood them all.

Resident John Winslow said afterward that not allowing public comment during the so-called “special meeting” was tantamount to suppression of public opinion.

In an email sent to councilors and The Forecaster last Tuesday, Winslow said, “It is difficult to have public involvement with the lack of information and when one does ask a question they are suppressed.”

Winslow, a critic of the contract zone proposal, said he attended the council meeting because he had questions including why “some critical information” was not posted on the town website before the meeting started.

Winslow said the latest draft of the contract zone was not made available to either the public or councilors until about four hours before the meeting.

“This town doesn’t keep the public informed,” he said, adding “it’s puzzling to me” how the council could take up a document it hadn’t had time to fully review prior to the start of the meeting.

In an email response, Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said last Tuesday, “I … do not agree with your general assessment that there is a lack of information or opportunity for public comment. We go to great lengths to involve the public.”

During last Monday’s council meeting, Town Manager Nathan Poore and Matthew Ek, Chase’s consultant on the development, both said there had been a lot of back and forth in the last week or so between the town and the developer.

And in a memo to the council, Poore said, “Staff is familiar with the packet of information and has worked closely with the developer during the past couple of weeks.”

Chase has argued, since first introducing the West Falmouth project last spring, that it conforms to the Comprehensive Plan because it would provide a variety of housing types in a part of town that’s been identified as a growth area.

The housing units offered would include what he’s termed entry-level homes – units that would have a starting sales price of about $280,000 – as well as units set aside for those 55 and over. Public benefits would include a public park with a playground that would be deeded over to the town, as well as several more passive recreation open spaces and walking trails, that would have easements allowing public access.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected] Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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