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February 7, 2019

After resistance, Falmouth Center developer reconsiders expansion proposal

Image / Carroll Associates, courtesy town of Falmouth A rendering from June 2018 shows the possible location of the sports fields and other elements of the proposed plan for Falmouth Center.

A proposed million-square-foot mixed-use project in Falmouth is on hold as the developer considers what the next steps are following a town council workshop in which councilors said they still had major concerns.

Developer Jonathan Cohen said Thursday morning that he’s evaluating “where to go from here.”

“So that means everything is in limbo,” he said.

The council, which has been considering the project since last spring, has taken no action on plans or rezoning requests for the 40-acre development at the site of the Falmouth Center shopping mall on U.S. Route 1.

Cohen is also developer of two Portland eastern waterfront projects — the 275,000-square foot parking garage and mixed-use development at 100 Fore St., and the just-completed 100,000-square-foot office building that is the new global headquarters for WEX Inc.

After the Jan. 28 workshop, Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore asked Cohen for feedback, and Cohen said he needed more time to think about his options, according to a post on the town’s website.

Poore said that Cohen “understands that the Town Council is concerned with current aspects of the proposed development.”

Remarks of council Vice Chair Claudia King were typical of many councilors at the Jan. 28 meeting. King said that at first blush, the project sought to meet what the town was looking for when it established a village center zone in the area in 2016.

A mixed-used area with small shops, residential space, that’s walkable, and has other aspects of the zone, “remains something we all want, and I’m in favor of that.”

But, abutter opposition, particularly to the soccer complex part of the project, “is sufficiently problematic,” King said.

She and other councilors said the outdoor soccer complex isn’t something that was envisioned when the village center zoning was established.

Public hearings in June and January heavily leaned toward opposition, particularly to the soccer complex, which area residents said would cause noise, lighting issues and traffic disruption.

The council in November and December reviewed submissions from the development team addressing impact of noise and light from the two outdoor soccer fields, traffic, storm water and ecological impact.

Zoning changes sought

Cohen and Portland commercial property owner Joseph Soley bought the Falmouth Center property, which includes the 203,637-square-foot shopping center and 29 undeveloped acres, in March for $21 million. The project would also include 11 state-owned acres to the north.

In July, the council asked that Cohen supply a master plan of the project, which would include 21 new buildings with more than 1 million square feet of floor area, a soccer complex with two outdoor fields and an indoor field, hotels, retail, residential and light industrial.

Cohen is asking the town’s zoning to be amended to create a zone for the entire parcel that would be similar to the Village Center zoning created in 2016, but allow some changes in use that would make the soccer complex possible. The property is now mostly in the Village Center 1 zone, with part of the northern portion in the more restrictive Business/Professional zone.

The change would also tweak some of the mixed-use requirements of the Village Center 1 zone — for instance, allow residential on the ground floor of one of the residential buildings instead of the required retail, and allow facades facing the woods to not have all the elements street-facing ones would have.

Changes would also allow moving the gas station and car wash, which is now near the Bucknam Road intersection at the north end of the property,into the 11 acres of state-owned Falmouth Spur land.

Cohen has also supplied the town with a Plan B, which wouldn’t include the 11 acres.

The town and state Department of Transportation have been trying to find a taker for the property since 2016.

In exchange for the 11 acres, the developer would take down the overpass and reconfigure the ramp. A DOT news release in 2016 said it would "create a prime development site that was previously unavailable."

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