Give comp plan more weight, Windham director says

A graphic created by the Comprehensive Plan Review Team and Planning Department shows the town's four major objectives for Windham's future, and, in circles, implementation strategies for achieving these goals. The cover of the town's new Comprehensive Plan, the graphic has also been printed on recyclable bags and handed out a community events to help raise awareness of the town's goals. 

The town of Windham’s next comprehensive plan can’t just be another document on the shelf, according to Planning Director Ben Smith.

The draft plan, which was presented to the council Aug. 23, is an update to the town’s 2003 comprehensive plan, a land-use plan designed to guide decision-making when it comes to zoning, investments in infrastructure, economic development projects and more.

“Traditionally, we do a comprehensive plan every 12-15 years, and put it away for a decade,” said Smith. “Our recommendation is really to keep this in front of people, report back and think of ways to help people understand how we are making progress or not making progress.”

Most of the problems and target areas for the town identified in the comprehensive plan are the same issues Windham has faced for decades, Smith said. The majority have to do with the town’s population growth and corresponding increases in economic activity and traffic.

In many ways, they’re not bad problems to have, he said.

“A lot of communities in the state would love to have Windham’s problems,” he said.

But as Windham continues to grow, the problems will not go away, Smith said, “they will continue to get worse.”

To keep the plan a “living document,” the Comprehensive Plan Review Team recommends the council form a Long Range Planning Committee, in charge of coordinating the implementation of the plan’s four “big ideas.” This could involve an annual report on the town’s progress in meeting 15 performance indicators outlined in the comprehensive plan and updating the plan every few years.

Councilor Tim Nangle said not implementing the plan, would be “a huge disservice” to the dozen or so members of the review team, which met once per month for two years to develop the plan.

“(Ignoring the plan) would turn anyone off from being part of a committee,” Nangle said.

The town’s four major objectives laid out the in the comprehensive plan are directly or indirectly related to accommodating the town’s growth. These four “big things,” as they’re referred to in the plan, are overarching themes of the town’s 38 smaller goals and implementation strategies for achieving those goals.

The first “big thing” is laying the groundwork for directing growth to North Windham, Windham Center and South Windham. “Creating a North Windham to be proud of” is the second major theme of the comprehensive plan, and has to do with upgrading the area’s infrastructure, streetscape and transportation.

The third major theme is to “invest in rural Windham to keep it rural.” Smith said that this is one of the themes that recurs every year, “but every time we make one of these plans, there’s less rural character to preserve.”

Implementation strategies for maintaining Windham’s rural character include working with third parties such as the Maine Farmland Trust to help preserve working farms, Smith said.

Finally, the fourth “big thing” is maintaining the town’s existing public facilities including roads, schools and municipal buildings, and investing in additional facilities, such as athletic fields and community space, to address the needs of the growing population.

The Comprehensive Plan draft has been developed during the course of two years with considerable public input, including a town-wide survey distributed in 2014 that received more than 1,000 responses from Windham households.

The town is planning another public input session to receive more feedback on the Comprehensive Plan draft. A meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20. Smith said he hopes to have a final version of the plan before the council in December.

A graphic created by the Comprehensive Plan Review Team and Planning Department shows the town’s four major objectives for Windham’s future, and, in circles, implementation strategies for achieving these goals. The cover of the town’s new Comprehensive Plan, the graphic has also been printed on recyclable bags and handed out a community events to help raise awareness of the town’s goals.