WINDHAM — A residents group concerned about over-development in Windham is frustrated by the Town Council’s lack of action, saying “they placate us and then nothing happens.”
Karen Lougee, Michelle Allain-Newton and Sarah Bronson, the group’s de facto leadership team, formed the group in September after being notified of a proposed 35-unit development on Land of Nod Road, which would abut their properties. Since then, they have gotten the support of the Highland Lake Leadership Team.
At the Nov. 13 Town Council meeting, Lougee presented the council with a petition, signed by 368 people, asking the council to draft a growth ordinance and adopt a 180-day building permit moratorium. She said they still have not received a response.
“We’ve heard nothing. Nobody is actually doing it. It’s frustrating. It feels to me like they placate us and then nothing happens,” she said this week.
At the Dec. 11 council meeting, Lougee asked when the council would respond to the petition.
Council Chairman Clayton Haskell replied, “It’s being worked on” and said the Planning Board, Windham Economic Development Committee and Code Enforcement Office were addressing the issue.
Allain-Newton pressed Haskell after learning from Town Planner Amanda Lessard, who was in the audience, that the Planning Department is not focusing on the problem.
“I’m concerned that nobody’s really working on it. I’d really like to know who is actually working on it, not who you think might be working on it,” Allain-Newton said.
During councilors’ comment, Councilor Tim Nangle said, “I’m not aware of anyone working on that. ”
Development in Windham has been a topic of discussion for months. At a Sept. 25 meeting, the Town Council approved a work plan for the Long Range Planning Committee that includes investigating zoning ordinance and map amendments and impact fee recommendations. Residents packed the Oct. 22 Planning Board meeting to voice their concerns about 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 designated growth areas.
Lougee said in October that the residents’ group aimed to spread the word about the extent of the proposed developments. Now, she said, their goal is the same, but the scope is broader and focused on specific solutions.
Lougee supports a temporary moratorium on new building permits, saying “I understand the hesitation about the moratorium, but. There is a big problem, and we need at least a period of time to think.”
Allain-Newton and member of the Highland Lake Leadership Team Rosie Hartzler also support a moratorium.
Lougee and Allain-Newton recommend a cap on the number of building permits issued per year, whether that be town-wide or broken down by zones.
Dennis Brown, chairman of the Highland Lake Leadership Team, thinks caps and larger lot sizes “would go a long ways towards solving this whole problem.”
Lougee emphasized that their group is not against growth but would like it to be slower and more responsible.
The group urges the council to take action as soon as possible.
Brown said, “For the town to hold its character, I think we are on the verge of a major paradigm shift. If we don’t do something now, when?”
Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected]
Sarah Bronson, left, Karen Lougee and Michelle Allain-Newton continue to lead a citizens’ group concerned about over-development in Windham.