Highland Lake development moratorium draws complaints

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WINDHAM — The Town Council voted 6-0 last week to continue with its 180-day moratorium on development in the town’s Highland Lake watershed.

The vote, along with public debate, was required by the town charter because the moratorium was initially passed Sept. 12 as an emergency measure.

The council has a list of 15 people who seek permits in the watershed area but cannot get them because of the temporary ban on development. Those applications are for both single-family homes and subdivision.

At a public hearing last week, the council heard from several members of the public who say they have been impacted negatively by the moratorium.

Jim Lydon and Elias Eder said that they hope to purchase land in a small subdivision on Frenchmen’s Way in Windham and build a home, but that the moratorium is jeopardizing their plans to move forward with the deal.

“This is where we want to put down roots and eventually start our family,” Lydon told the council. “The last thing we want to do is harm the lake. We want to take an active role in being part of the solution. But we can’t do that if we can’t become a part of the community.”

Rich Merk of Otisfield owns the Frenchman’s Way subdivision and says he has had two potential sales impacted by the moratorium, including the one with Lydon and Eder.

“I feel like I’m getting kicked in the head, and would appreciate any consideration you could give me, or give other people like myself that have gone through the effort to help keep the lake safe,” Merk said.

Merk said that he has served on the Thompson Lake Environmental Association and believes its important to protect lakes in the area, but believes that the moratorium is not the best way to do it.

Bernard Minot said that his plan to build a garage at his house on Swan Road have been caught up in the moratorium.

“Didn’t really think it’s going to be that big of an impact. It’s just a garage at my house,” Minot said. “But after a month or so of working on plans, finances, got everything in order, went to the town office for the third time to get my building permit, and I was told I can’t built now.”

Councilor Timothy Nangle said while he was supporting the continuation of the moratorium, he hoped the town could work soon to accommodate single lot development moving forward in the area.

“I would hope that we could come to a middle ground between now and when we get all this figured out to allow individuals to build their homes and their garages,” Nangle said.

The moratorium was passed after the Highland Lake Association raised concerns about the lake’s water quality and the possible impact that further development could have.

“I just want to thank the Town Council again for the courage to take on the moratorium in terms of the development around the lake,” said lake association President Rosie Hartzler, who noted that the association and its partners with the Highland Lake Leadership Team would be convening a science forum on the lake’s health in December. 

Windham Town Manager Tony Plante also mentioned that Windham is working with the lake association, the town of Falmouth, the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to jump-start the Highland Lake Leadership Team.

The moratorium temporarily halts clearing, earth moving, vegetation removal and construction of driveways, parking spaces or patio surfaces in areas larger than 500 square feet. It impacts a wide range of development in the watershed – from larger projects to single-family homes.

Councilor Brett Jones was absent for the vote last Tuesday night.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

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