Council updated on 21st Century Downtown plan

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Windham's 21st Century Downtown plan looks to create a more cohesive North Windham along the Route 302 corridor, including at Boody's corner. 

WINDHAM — Town councilors received an update last week on plans to implement Windham’s longstanding 21st Century Downtown plan, including that state and regional funding has not materialized.

“This plan was adopted in 2013, and it is now 2018,” said Windham Planning Director Ben Smith. “It’s hard to believe we’ve gone almost five years.”

The crux of the plan, Smith said Jan. 16, is a re-visioning of north Windham along the Route 302 corridor as a more cohesive downtown area.

“That plan is really calling for a new type of downtown for north Windham, and it is based on creating a place that is going to be a place where people choose to live as well as work, a place where people choose to spend time – where you can drive to and then do three or four things at once before you have to get back in your car again,” Smith said.

As outlined by Smith, the plan includes five main components: zoning changes, streetscape and pedestrian improvements within the 302 right of way, wastewater infrastructure, broadband and moving utilities underground.

“It’s all under the umbrella of a north Windham to be proud of,” Smith said.

Smith also gave councilors an update on steps taken on the plan in the last year, including the application for $8 million in funding from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System specifically for the proposed improvements within the Route 302 right of way – including crosswalk, sidewalk and street signal improvements.

That application was ultimately unsuccessful, Smith said, so the town then talked with the Maine Department of Transportation to gauge possibilities of state funding. The state officials, Smith said, were “not nearly as excited” about the project as town officials because it doesn’t add to the amount of vehicles that can better move through the area.

The state officials were willing to be more of a “junior partner” in the effort, he said.

Without regional or state funding, the staff has “kicked around a number of ideas” related to phasing the large project into smaller projects, Smith said.

“It may be that we step back and re-look at things, to move some things forward, and some things may have to be not looked at currently,” said Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman.

Chapman also asked if the town had pursued federal funding, and Smith said it had but the project is “not a real good candidate” for larger federal investment.

She wanted and hadn’t yet seen numbers on potential cost.

“We could hurt a lot of people, if we’re not very careful, by our increases in our taxes, and before you know it, we’re paying the same amount of taxes as Falmouth or Cumberland or Scarborough,” Chapman said. “And I’m not sure that we can sustain that.”

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield said the council needs to decide whether it is going to fully commit to the plan, which he sees as an opportunity for Windham’s future, with the necessary resources.

“I think by our town continuing to look at the pennies in front of us, we’re losing dollars decade after decade,” said Maxfield. “And investing in Windham – I’ve said it again, I’ll say it a million times – I don’t think hurts the taxpayers. I think what’s hurting the taxpayers is decade after decade of this town refusing to invest in itself.”

“Doing nothing is costing us more than doing something,” he said.

Chapman emphasized that some action is already being taken, and that she is looking for more information in order to move forward – and not suggesting that the plan should be halted.

“As elected officials, we are supposed to look out diligently for taxpers’ funding,” Chapman said. “So we need to make sure what we are doing is good stewardship of the town taxpayers’ dollars.”

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

Windham’s 21st Century Downtown plan looks to create a more cohesive North Windham along the Route 302 corridor, including at Boody’s corner.

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