Councilors call for faster work on growth plan

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WINDHAM — The Town Council revisited residential growth concerns at its meeting Tuesday, where some called for the Long Range Planning Committee to speed up its work, saying “It just can’t take 12 months.”

Town Planner Amanda Lessard said the Planning Board is facing a record number of applications this year, with 369 dwelling units under review. 

A town map showed that from 2005 to 2015, 67 percent of new structures were built in rural areas. Since 1993, the vast majority of construction has occurred in rural areas. 

“Our current zoning isn’t doing anything to direct where the growth is,” Lessard said.

She reviewed the work plan the council charged the Long Range Planning Committee with Sept. 25, which includes considering zoning ordinance and map amendments, creating an open space plan, exploring impact fee recommendations and shaping a district plan for south Windham. 

Development in Windham has been a topic of discussion for months. Residents packed the Oct. 22 Planning Board meeting to voice their concerns about what they called recent over-development, such as the impacts on taxes, schools, roads, water bodies and the town’s rural character.

Residents are also concerned about the location of the proposed developments. Windham’s Comprehensive Master Plan, adopted in 2017, maps out several growth areas where “future growth is to be targeted and encouraged or incentivized.” The majority of proposed developments are not in growth areas. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Director of Code Enforcement and Zoning Administration Chris Hanson discussed how the economy cycles over time and said, “The economy will take care of this.”

Councilors contributed a variety of solutions. 

Councilor Donna Chapman supported removing density bonuses – which allow for more houses on a lot if the open space is made available for public use – and cluster subdivisions from farm and farm residential zones.

Cluster subdivisions permit a reduction in lot size in exchange for half of the available property being preserved as open space. Since last year, the town has seen a three-fold increase in building permit applications, the majority of which are for cluster subdivisions.

Councilors David Nadeau and Jarrod Maxfield backed the use of cluster subdivisions as a tool.

Councilor Tim Nangle endorsed removing density bonuses, while Nadeau believes the council should revise town ordinances.

Council Chairman Clayton Haskell suggested increasing mandated lot sizes.

Chapman also urged the Long Range Planning Committee to speed up its process. According to Lessard’s presentation, it will take the committee nine to 12 months to explore farm and farm residential zoning ordinance and map amendments. 

“I’d like to see that nine to 12 months drop down to two to three months because that’s the crisis mode. It just can’t take 12 months,” Chapman said.

During public comment, the chairman of the Highland Lake Leadership Team,  Dennis Brown, echoed that sentiment. 

“We can’t just wait. I don’t think we can wait nine months,” he said.

Lessard cited the committee’s limited staff, saying, “We are doing the best we can. If you recall the times the council has tried to write an ordinance, it can take years. So the committee is working at a faster pace than the council.”

She anticipates the committee will return to the council with a recommendation about impact fees at the end of January. 

Maxfield encouraged residents to be patient.

“The town does not move quickly. We’re on the right path, and it might not happen as quick as we want,” he said.

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at jvaughan@keepmecurrent.com. 

Councilor Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Cummings asks a question during Town Planner Amanda Lessard’s presentation Tuesday night.