#2 – Non-Residential Development and Future Town Center

During the Community Survey #1, many survey respondents commented on non-residential topics and also discussed the potential concept of a future town center. Non-residential development covers many potential types and uses, including civic amenities, retail and commercial. The scale of such non-residential developments could vary, and they might be designed to service local needs (coffee shops, small businesses) or have broader application (office buildings, retail centers).

What we know so far (from the Community Survey results and background research work):

HISTORY

  • Although desired by the community for many years, Falmouth does not have an historic town center such as Yarmouth, for example. Falmouth originally included Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Cape Elizabeth, and today’s Falmouth. As a result, present-day Falmouth developed around various neighborhoods, usually near mill sites and along major routes out of Portland. As shown in an 1871 map some of these neighborhoods had their own school, shops, and post office.
  • Transportation routes served as primary business locations. On the east side of town this was originally Foreside Road, which was then supplanted by Route 1. On the west side of town, Gray Road served this role. The construction of the interstate highway (I-295) and Turnpike, effectively divided Falmouth, further changing commercial development.
  • Relative to many other municipalities, the Town has an extremely diversified tax base, with its largest taxpayer comprising only 2.99% of its total tax base, and its top ten taxpayers combined representing only 8.84% of the total tax base.
  • The commercial tax base is well balanced with strong retail, office, and service sectors. Major companies with headquarters or divisions located in the Town include a large national computer software firm and a large regional bank back-office facility.
  • The desire for a town center has driven planning and zoning for the past several decades and the Town is still actively working towards this end.
  • Some see today’s town center location as the retail stretch on Route 1 between the Turnpike Spur and Route 88. North of that is dominated by professional office development. Historically this corridor was developed with strip malls, car dealerships, and “big box” stores. The car dealerships have mostly relocated, and more service uses, including medical, have located in this area.
  • Along the Gray Road, the largest commercial center is the West Falmouth Crossing development. The east side of this complex is largely retail. The west side is home to back offices for TD Bank, the town’s largest private employer.
  • Easy highway accessibility to Portland, the Portland Jetport, and the region makes Falmouth a desirable location for businesses. Two Metro bus lines serve Falmouth and bring workers and shoppers to Falmouth’s exit 53 area and Route 1 from Portland and vice versa.
  • Falmouth’s economic base is heavily retail, service, and office oriented.
  • Falmouth is perceived by many as a bedroom community, but it is actually an employment center. Pre-pandemic there were more people coming to Falmouth to work on a daily basis than leaving Falmouth to work elsewhere. According to the latest available census figures, an approximate total of 6,362 workers are employed in Falmouth, with over 63% of its workforce residing in surrounding communities.

RELATED MACRO TRENDS

  • There is a macro societal trend towards more livable, mixed use communities. This concept of livability is framed in different ways and gets expressed in multiple different ideas and concepts. One concept that is currently gaining traction is the notion of a ‘15-minute city’. This concept is where, within a town or a city, all your necessary amenities and essential services should be accessible within a 15-minute walk or bike.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some trends, such as working from home. This has added extra energy to the movement of making urban communities ‘more local’. This may drive more demand for local pockets of retails and amenities.
  • Over the next decade, it is likely society will accelerate its shift away from car-centric focus. In many ways, parts of Falmouth act as outer suburban components of Portland. The trend to urbanization of suburbs is relevant in this context, as it includes trends such as the formation of retail hubs or ‘neighborhood-centers’.

WHAT IS CURRENTLY HAPPENING IN FALMOUTH

  • Non-residential uses are regulated by the Town’s Zoning and Site Plan Review Ordinance. The Town’s current zoning map may be found here.
  • Various zoning districts contain permitted non-residential uses. Along Route 1, they include the Village Center 1 and 2 Districts and the Business and Professional District. Along Gray Road, they included the West Falmouth Crossing Master Planned Development District, the Village Mixed Use District, and the Mixed Use Cluster District.
  • The Village Center is planned as a mixed use area, providing the community with a vibrant retail and service, professional office and residential core. Specific purposes are:
    • Provide and encourage greater intensity of land use
    • Capitalize on existing utility infrastructure
    • Allow mixed uses of commercial, residential and civic
    • Provide transportation infrastructure that supports motorists, pedestrian, transit riders and cyclists
    • Create a building edge at the sidewalk
  • The Town has been proactive in planning for reinvestment in its business areas through the creation of several Tax Increment Financing Districts around 2000. Funds from these districts have paid, among others, for two multi-million dollar road improvement projects on Route 1 (2015) and Route 100 (2019). A third road project is planned for Route 1 North from Bucknam Road to the Cumberland town line. These projects were preceded by careful, multi-year planning efforts by citizen committees and Town Council.
  • In addition, in 2017 the Town developed an Economic Development Strategy Report.
  • The Falmouth Shopping Center property, Falmouth’s largest building, has been the subject of various public and private studies and plans. The ownership of the center changed a few years ago, and the new owner is currently building two new multi-story developments. Although historically the town had two-story buildings—such as Town Landing Market, Falmouth Corners, and West Falmouth Corner – this changed in the 1970s-1990s with the development of single-story strip malls.Currently the town is working to return to multi-story buildings to encourage a greater efficiency of the use of land.
  • Available vacant land for non-residential uses is limited in Falmouth. Approximately 5% of the total land area of Falmouth has been designated as a commercial growth area (1,051 acres +/-). Redevelopment of existing buildings and properties and infill development in the retail section of Route 1 has been a common practice.
  • The split between residential and non-residential property tax base has shifted from 90%-10% in 2001 to 88%-12% in 2021.
  • Various multi-family condominium and rental complexes were built in Falmouth in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Aside from OceanView and Avesta, no new multi-family developments have been built since. A 2021 Multi-Family Housing & Land Use Regulation Report by Levine Planning Strategies and GPCOG showed that multifamily housing is permitted with few limiting factors on just over five percent of the land area in Greater Portland communities. In Falmouth this is 3.7% of the land area.

WHAT THE COMMUNITY SURVEY RESULTS SHOW

  • The community survey asked several questions directly related to topics of non-residential development. When asked “Should Falmouth focus exclusively on residential areas offering lifestyle tranquility, or also offer more pockets of commercial amenities?”, survey responses were across the range, with roughly equal numbers at each end of the continuum.
  • When asked about commercial growth policy, framed as “Should Falmouth aim to restrict commercial growth and development as much as possible, or actively promote commercial growth and development?”, the majority of people leant towards restricting commercial growth at least to some level.
  • Results from the open-ended question, where people were asked about their vision for the future, covered a broad range. The categorization of these nearly 1400 responses (done by a group of Community Connectors) showed responses to topics as follows:
    • Creating a definable town center: important, 43%; neutral, 37%; unimportant, 20%
    • Creating retail hubs or center: important, 30%; neutral, 48%; unimportant, 22%
    • Exploring multi use developments: important, 26%; neutral, 41%; unimportant, 33%
    • Encouraging and attracting desirable businesses: important, 47%; neutral, 42%; unimportant, 11%)
    • Pursuing more local employment opportunities: important, 36%; neutral, 47%; unimportant, 17%

CONSULTANT’S INSIGHTS and POTENTIAL TRADE-OFFS

  • Within the community, there is obvious caution to non-residential development. A large part of this caution seems to be based on a fear of losing the character of the community. However, non-residential developments cover a wide range of possible uses and styles. Focusing on what matches the community values and character will be important.
  • There is a lot of innovation occurring within urban and town planning, accelerated in some locations by the global pandemic. Much of this innovation is aimed at creating more intimate neighborhood experiences, where there are community amenities and small-scale retail and commercial. This type of development could have a lot of potential in Falmouth and help retain the local and small-scale feel.  
  • There is a trade-off regarding taxes. Historically, commercial development has mitigated the tax burden of residential properties and has kept the tax rate in Falmouth relatively low compared to area communities. The Town has made significant investments in amenities along Route 1 and Route 100. Improvements of roads, intersections, and wastewater systems in those areas, for example, was made feasible because of the community’s commercial tax base, and helps the community to handle future growth. If commercial valuation does not keep pace with residential valuation it results in a greater tax burden on residential properties.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

Falmouth is currently a predominantly residential community. For decades, Falmouth residents have discussed and planned for the creation of a Town Center as reflected in many planning documents governing development today. They have also expressed a desire for a cautious approach to non-residential development. Knowing that there is a wide range of views on this topic, we are keen to hear your comments about the future trajectory.

What do you think would be the ideal type and scale of non-residential development, that could create positive outcomes for the community?

Comments made via this portal are public. We expect conversations to follow the rules of polite discourse. Messages containing inappropriate content or language will be removed at the discretion of Future iQ.

20 Comments

In the early 1990s, Falmouth updated its comprehensive plan following a national and regional recession. Not surprisingly, economic development was the major topic of discussion and focus of the plan’s recommendations. Interestingly, the goals of the community were not so much geared toward increasing the tax base, creating jobs, or getting goods and services not available in Falmouth, things many economic development programs go after. The overarching goal was to improve the quality of life in the community.

That plan set in motion the master planning process of the Route 1 corridor redevelopment that revitalized the 1970s vintage shopping centers, including redevelopment of the old Kmart with the public-private partnerships that created Family Ice, the adjacent Town park, and the Walmart and cinemas. Because of the strong community support for high quality development, Falmouth was one of the first towns in Maine to adopt commercial design guidelines. At the same time, policy makers acknowledged that private development interests required flexibility on allowed uses and design requirements in order to finance the projects that made revitalization happen. The results of redevelopment were not ideal, but they were a tremendous improvement over the prior commercial strip development.

That redevelopment had a ripple effect on properties up and down the Route 1 corridor, and over a 15-year time frame, most of the corridor redeveloped following the same pattern. The same planning process ensued on Route 100 at the Turnpike Exit, and the master plan for West Falmouth Crossing produced a new commercial center for the west side of Town.

Falmouth is extremely, if not uniquely positioned to capitalize on past economic development successes if it continues to value these types of community centers and maximizes the limited space allowed for commercial development in the community. It is very important that local negative responses to individual projects not derail the continued pro-active planning for economic revitalization and cooperative engagement with commercial developers in master planning and public-private partnerships. Falmouth has much to lose as well as much to gain.

Now that we have two 4 and 5 story non-residential buildings in Falmouth, I’m guessing that we will see more of the same… perhaps some “nice” 10 story buildings?

I tried this concern in an earlier email which was rejected. Looking at the area around the Shaws shopping center as a town center, I am distressed that two four story buildings are going up so close to Route 1. Neither gives the impression of a New England town center for a town the size of Falmouth.

I tend to agree. If buildings of this size we’re intended to be mixed use (commercial and residential), I could see their benefit. But if these will be commercial only, I think the change in character (not to mention increased traffic) outweighs the benefits.

I agree with Phil Davies. Those two four story buildings dramatically change the landscape – not for the better. They are an eyesore on what was a pleasant small town shopping area. It is a real disappointment that the town would allow something like this.

Thank you to George for all of the important context and history regarding the development of Rt. 1 in Falmouth. I would also second his comment his last paragraph that Falmouth is uniquely situated to continue shaping what it wants in a town center like Rt. 1.

I’m certainly in the minority commenting here, but I actually like the two new buildings going up on Rt. 1 and I’m excited that there will be a new restaurant and many new offices upstairs. Those will support the businesses that we love that have struggled through the last 18 months. Do I have some minor complaints regarding the blandness of their design? Sure. That said, this is an argument for setting some standards for what the town wants. As George points out, Falmouth is unique in terms of our proximity to Portland and our desirability to developers. Like Freeport or Yarmouth, we could make reasonable standards that promote growth but make sure that it’s attractive. That said, I also agree with George that local negative voices cannot be given a heckler’s veto either. This is why set, agreed-upon standards would benefit everyone so that not every project is subject to the whims of the political process.

As for what I’d like to see on Rt. 1 going forward – more 2-4 story buildings with restaurants and offices that take up all of the unsightly parking spots that are almost never used. I would also love to see more bike racks and pedestrian friendly walkable development. We spent all this money widening Rt. 1 for bikes and pedestrians, but almost no businesses have bike racks for people to use. Lastly, maybe we should be open to limited studio-to-two bedroom apartments above some businesses in Rt. 1. Hiring and affordable housing for workers at businesses along Rt. 1 is a huge challenge and this could help with that while also adding more vibrancy to Rt. 1 at night.

First, I’d like to ask that these pages be printed with a darker font, they are very difficult to read. Yes, I can enlarge them, but then I have to move the whole page back and forth for every line.

I also dislike the large buildings going in by Shaw’s on Route 1. It’s possible that large buildings could be tucked discretely somewhere in Falmouth. But for the town to approve for them be built so close to the road that they loom over it, much closer than most of the other buildings, is quite jarring. I get it the town needs the tax money and the developer is no doubt making big bucks, but at the expense of the small town charm that was part of the plan for that area?

I would have to agree with Tom. I am in favor of building up route 1 with more of the 4 and 5 story buildings. These buildings bring more business’s, restaurants, office space to Falmouth. These two new buildings and hopefully the future buildings lessen the tax burden on the residents of Falmouth. It will make use of the open parking lots that nobody parks in. It would be nice to see Falmouth not be a ghost town after 9 pm on route 1.

If I remember correctly, building design standards set in the 90s required gabled facades and no, NO flat top roofs. Why request in put from residents when zoning board of appeals can be bamboozled into letting developers get what they want and dismiss prior planning development guidelines. Yes, these cubicle boxes are eyesores and clash terribly. Likewise, single lane traffic on Rt 1 in order to provide a sidewalk that is rarely if ever used was folly. People do not shop on foot. I would also like to see legal standards for bike lanes addressed. If a bikelane is present, it ishould be illegal to use the roadway, straddle the white line, or travel other than single file.
Further, I would like to add there is a terrible moral hazard to development requirements for controlled runoff drainage to storm drains. North Brook at Johnson road is gone. Cheney brook is all but gone. Both feeder streams to Mill Creek which is now a trickle of its prior flowage. Had the development behind Shaw’s come to pass, mill creek would have dried up. Entire ecosystems that existed up to the 80s are forever destroyed in vain.

Similar views to Tom and Brody, if we want a village center it needs to be conveniently walkable–the current sidewalks and distance between shops are not realistic for anyone to move and browse between shops. As such, Rte 1 needs density of commercial/retail/dining. The Town should encourage multi-story buildings on a walkable street area with parking hidden behind it. Think of e.g. Saratoga Springs downtown, for instance. This is easy to say and much harder to accomplish of course, but may be a third wave for Rte 1 given George’s very helpful summation of the past two phases.

The whole idea of a town center is ridiculous and the money spent on reconfiguring Rt1 has done nothing but back up traffic. Side walks are rarely used, biking is a short season in Maine and the number of road signs is mind boggling.. The classic solution looking for a problem. It’s Rt1, it will never be a “village” or “town center”. It will never be Yarmouth. We have done a good job not letting it become Scarborough. Let’s appreciate what we have and skip further “improvements”

Town centers evolve based on economic decisions by investors who could care less about what a Town wants its downtown to look like. The evolution of our economy based on technology and retailing strategies will change which stores can afford to be located in a small town. Evolving COVID strains will further change restaurant approaches. The Town’s efforts to redevelop Route 1 and Route 100 is government seeking solutions which will really be determined by an evolving economy. The Town needs a more realistic perspective.

MODERATOR COMMENT: It is great to see these conversational threads evolve.
These Discussions Boards are being moderated to match the stated guidelines: “Comments made via this portal are public. We expect conversations to follow the rules of polite discourse. Messages containing inappropriate content or language will be removed at the discretion of Future iQ”. To date, we have had to exclude a number of comments that are critical about people or groups, or are obviously off-purpose (unrelated political commentary; for example). PLEASE remember, these are open community conversations, to which a wide range of people are contributing – including school students. These Discussion Boards are an opportunity for thoughtful, polite and convivial community discussion focused on exploring specific important issues. Please consider ‘tone and content’ before submitting, as we will draw a clear line – and exclude – inappropriate messages. Thank you.

A town center doesn’t make sense in this town as it is widespread and has West Falmouth, Center Falmouth and Rt 88 corridor, and “the Flats” clearly established. Residents who live where they do in Falmouth appreciate this differentiation and each has its unique benefits. In this age of electronic communication there is little need to have a physical center where all town resources can be accessed online. Falmouth is significantly larger in population and square miles than other towns with a “center”.
I feel that there is ample opportunity to accommodate small business along our Rt 1 corridor and West Falmouth Crossing. This is where the major roads provide access and optimal for commuters and public transportation. I also feel that this is where the town should explore building apartments for lower cost housing opportunities. From prior surveys, there has always been support for keeping Falmouth character “New England small town” that embraced local business. Regarding the 4-story box structures on Rt 1: “Why did the town allow this to happen? Did the community have any input prior to these structures being approved for construction? ” These were comments/questions I received and would ask the same.

First, thank you for making this forum available. I tend to agree with many of the comments, including L. Lengyel and J. Solley & B. Rodden. The 2 new structures along Rte. 1 are a terrible eye sore against the backdrop of the rest of the area. If such structures are to be approved, can they not be build further back, away from the road, behind current store fronts or in more outlying areas? Falmouth is so small, this would not render them “inconvenient”. I also question the wisdom of building more office space, given the pandemic’s ongoing impact of emptying out of work/office spaces. Many offices will not reopen, their employees permanently working from home. Please do not allow any further large structures along Rte. 1, they are hardly a “needed improvement”.

I wish more people knew about actions that were taken eight years ago to set the stage for creating a main street and town center along Route 1 — a vision that planning experts deemed an excellent example of how to convert an aging commercial strip into a vibrant multi-use corridor of the future. Voters approved a referendum moving power lines underground and creating bike lanes , sidewalks and lines of trees and attractive lamp posts. And after literally years of input from the public, the Town Council approved ordinances that prevent future big box stores and, over time, will create a modern village where residents can live, work and shop without needing a car. It’s disappointing that the new owner of the Shopping Center chose to build two tall office buildings first, but a new upscale restaurant in one of them will be a great addition. I wish residents had told the Planning Board that the architecture conflicted with neighboring buildings but nobody did — until it was too late. I think the ordinance can be improved by requiring master plans for major redevelopment so changes aren’t made piecemeal, but change is not necessarily bad just because it’s change.

Has anyone considered a rotary, a round-about type option for the complicated intersection area that is on Rt one right before Maine Audubon’s entrance and the entrance near the PCC (Portland Country Club)?

More non-residential development will add to the tax base, where additional housing will increase taxes as the school budget is our largest expenditure. Certainly non-residential development should be grouped along Routes 1 and 100/West Crossing. To avoid sprawl, adding height seems inevitable and I hope we can do it gracefully. I understand the Vision of a town center, but don’t think it is a realistic goal.
Falmouth’s geography and Maine’s climate preclude the town’s longstanding attempts to create a village center and encourage biking. Better to embrace what we have and gently shape development (agreeing here that parking lots are not best-placed out front), knowing that short trips to shop, work, and join community activities will be by car.

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MORE INFORMATION​

For more information about the Town of Falmouth Vision and Values project, please contact:

David Beurle, CEO
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Phone: (612) 757-9190
david@future-iq.com

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