Highland Lake moratorium extended, amended

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WINDHAM — The Town Council has continued to extend a moratorium on development in Windham’s portion of the Highland Lake watershed while modifying the 180-day ban to allow for certain projects to move forward. 

The narrowed moratorium would scale back the restrictions on smaller projects while continuing to put a hold on subdivision development, projects requiring site plan review by the Planning Board and the construction of new private roads.

Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night in favor of the amended Highland Lake moratorium, with Councilor Clayton Haskell the only member opposed. 

The original ban on certain development activities within the watershed was first passed in September 2017 in response to concerns about the lake’s health and was slated to expire in early March. The Council voted in late February to extend the development ban but was required by the town charter to have another vote within 60 days because the extension was passed as an emergency measure. 

Since the measure was originally passed, Windham has worked with Falmouth to create a Highland Lake Leadership team and enacted surface water protection ordinance changes in the watershed. 

The Highland Lake Association has actively supported the moratorium since the beginning and raised alarms about the health of the lake — particularly in the wake of a temporary bloom, believed to be cyanobacteria, that has hit the lake the past four summers. 

Highland Lake Association Board Member Dennis Brown said Tuesday night that the group supports the scaled-back version of the moratorium. 

“Highland Lake Association supports modifying the moratorium so that small projects can move forward,” Brown said. “We think it’s essential that it stays in place some time longer for subdivisions and commercial projects, and there’s several reasons for that.”

Brown expressed concern about the existing town and Maine Department of Environmental Protection review process for larger projects, saying that some details can be missed. He also mentioned the lake association’s upcoming watershed survey on May 19, which aims to pinpoint potential areas and sources of excess nutrients in the lake. 

Rich Merk, who owns land that he’s been trying to sell in the watershed, has addressed the council previously about how the moratorium has hindered potential sales. He thanked the Council Tuesday night for considering the modifications. 

“I think the town has got a long way to go — I think you’ve come a long way already,” Merk said. “Having the modifications will probably get more support as you take the time to develop information that you need to make decisions, and as you spend time educating the public on the resource issue.”

Town Manager Tony Plante also mentioned several proposed ordinance amendments for the Highland Lake watershed that the lake association has put forth and the Planning board has recently endorsed. 

The Planning Board voted 5-2 Monday night to recommend the adoption of the lake association’s suggestion to lower the allowed phosphorous allocation for a subdivision or site plan project, remove the ability for a subdivision developer to pay a fee in order to exceed the phosphorous limit, and prohibit density bonuses for cluster subdivisions. Those changes would apply only to the Highland Lake watershed.  

The lake association has also pushed for those changes to be made retroactive to the same Sept. 5 enactment date of the original moratorium. 

Plante said the earliest that the formal Planning Board recommendation on the ordinance changes could come before the Council would be May 22. 

“I support this — extending it. I think it’s a good idea that we allow individual home builders to start building their homes and getting things going,” Councilor Tim Nangle said about the amended moratorium. “My feeling is we rescind this moratorium as soon as we have the ordinance language in and in effect so that we can restart business as usual.” 

“Don’t take that the wrong way. Not business as past, but we can restart allowing these types of developments, providing they meet all the requirements,” he added. 

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

The Windham Town Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to extend and amend a moratorium on certain development activities in the Highland Lake watershed. 

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