Housing plans spur Gorham neighbors' concerns

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The Gorham Planning Board on Monday discussed a number of proposed residential developments.

GORHAM — With the town grappling with growth, the Planning Board Monday discussed requests for 165 additional housing units, including a pre-application discussion for a high-density subdivision off South Street.

Chase Custom Homes is seeking permission to develop 121 lots on 103 acres in Sawyer Estates off South Street, but no development plans had been submitted to the Planning Department this week. While Monday’s official discussion focused on extension of sidewalks for that project, some residents aired concerns about the overall impact of the proposed development on their neighborhood.

Allyson Lowell of Crestwood Drive handed a lengthy letter to planners and spoke from the public podium about the Chase proposal. “It will change the character of our neighborhood,” said Lowell, a member of a newly formed citizens group, Gorham Residents for Responsible Growth. At a Town Council meeting Tuesday, Lowell asked for a six-month moratorium on growth.

Lowell’s concerns in her letter included impact on wildlife, privacy, safety of children, traffic and “overburdened” schools.

“Our schools and infrastructure are not prepared for the kind of growth Chase Custom Homes is proposing,” Lowell said in her letter.

Planning Board member Lee Pratt said the development has the potential of adding 242 school children, and resident Gary Wane of Crestwood Drive said those students would attend Village School. According to School Superintendent Heather Perry earlier this year, the elementary school has a capacity for 415 students and enrollment hit 435 last year with 466 students expected this year.

But Planning Board member George Fox said the panel cannot address schools or traffic on South Street.

Planning Board Chairman Edward Zelmanow said the town’s comprehensive plan has identified the area for high density growth. “We want to manage growth,” Zelmanow said. “We can’t stop it.”

No vote was taken Monday.

In other action, an amendment proposed by Bramblewood LLC to the Glenwater Subdivision off Grove Street that would increase the number of dwelling units in Cottage Court from 10 to 18 was tabled after the board learned of a town neighbor notification glitch.

In a large turnout of neighbors, one resident said she didn’t know about the expansion proposal until Saturday.

Penny Howard of Grove Street asked to have the item removed from a consent agenda and opened up for more discussion. The Planning Board re-opened a public hearing.

After some discussion that included the impact of the proposed expansion on property values and traffic, abutter Robert Berks of Glenwood Avenue, pointing to notification issues, asked the Planning Board to table the matter.

“I’m shocked neighbors didn’t get adequate notification,” said developer Greg McCormack of Bramblewood.

The Planning Board on motion of member Molly Butler Bailey and seconded by Pratt voted 6-0 (Mike Richman absent) to table the request until September.

For a six-lot development, Harrison Lane, off Libby Avenue proposed by Robert Hamblen, the Planning Board granted a preliminary approval 6-0. The development would be served by public water and there was no public comment.

A pre-application discussion for a 16-unit condominium development at 136 South St., proposed by Plowman Development Group LLC drew neighborhood opposition although Town Planner Tom Poirier said no decision would come in Monday’s meeting. Concerns about that project included buffering, safety of children walking to schools, stormwater runoff water  and speeding on South Street.

Carolyn Dahms of Spruce Lane was concerned about wildlife and “crazy” traffic. “When is enough enough on South Street,” Dahms asked.

In another South Street proposal, the Planning Board tabled a pre-application discussion for Douglas Woods II, a 14-lot subdivision at 346 South St. proposed by Dana Lampron LLC. The proposal appears to hinge on approval of Douglas Woods I, proposed by developer Susan Duchaine of Design Dwellings.

Duchaine’s proposal was postponed last month when the Planning Board questioned whether the project would comply with the town’s comprehensive plan. The Planning Board likely will have its lawyer at its Sept. 17 meeting, when the discussion continues.

At  Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, Gorham Residents for Responsible Growth, aired concerns about the impact of rapid development in town. In requesting a development moratorium, Lowell said, “Developers are collecting millions on the backs of taxpayers,” Lowell said.

Her husband, William Messer, urged moderation in development.

The citizens group distributed flyers outlining its concerns that include public safety, affordable taxes, quality education, traffic management and responsive relationships with local government.

Resident Jim Means said he’s pleased to see citizens involved and urged them to run for office. “Talking to these people won’t do you a bit of good,” Means said publicly.

The group has a Facebook page and organizers say it has 200 followers. Ingrid Semle of Crestwood Drive, helped form the group. The movement is in its “infancy,” Semle said following Tuesday’s meeting.

But, Mederick Black of Mahlon Avenue, a resident for 53 years, praised the town’s comprehensive plan that he believes will work. “Gorham has been one of the fastest growing communities for decades,” Black said.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com