New housing proposed in Windham

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WINDHAM — Town councilors are considering two separate requests from landowners in south Windham that, if accepted, could open the door to more housing in the area.

At a Jan. 2 council workshop, the Windham councilors received a request from Bryan Mills to rezone a portion of a nearly 6-acre property he owns on River Road so that it can be developed into an estimated 15 units of multi-family housing.

Councilors also received a separate request Tuesday night from MCL Realty to discuss a possible contract zone that would allow for a roughly 60-unit development of apartments and townhouses on a 2.1-acre Depot Street property.

Town Manager Tony Plante said that a public hearing and vote on the Mills request is slated for the Jan. 9 council meeting. The council expressed an interest in receiving more information on the MCL project before taking any definitive action on a possible contract zone agreement.

Contract zone agreements can provide projects with zoning flexibility in exchange for some sort of public benefit to the municipality.

Tuesday was a busy night for engineering consultant Dustin Roma of the Windham-based firm DM Roma, who represents both landowners and was involved in both of the separate presentations.

First on the agenda was the Mills property, which is located on River Road between Route 202 and Gambo Road and is currently split between two different town zones: farm residential and medium-density residential.

Roma said the request to rezone the entire property as medium-density residential would allow development on the full parcel rather than clustered closer to the road based on the existing zone line cutting through the property.

“I think what this allows us to do is, rather than try to congregate development near the road where the zoning allows it, it allows us to look at the whole property,” said Roma, who estimated that the project could consist of about 15 units of multi-family housing.

Roma stressed that the exact plans for the possible development are still up in the air.

According to a memo from town planning staff, the Windham Planning Board signed off on the proposed rezoning of the Mills property by a vote of 3-1. Planner Margaret Pinchbeck cast the lone dissenting vote.

Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman said she hoped that if the zoning change is made and the development does go forward, it would be “aesthetically correct for the neighborhood.”

Councilor Clayton Haskell raised concerns about making the zoning change for one property and not other properties in the area.

“This is where we’ve had a problem all along – even down 302,” Haskell said. “Little piece here and there, and you’re getting the same thing … once you start, it’s an endless circle.”

Town Planning Director Ben Smith said he understood Haskell’s concerns but said that, “I don’t feel like this is an island of zoning separate from anything else that surrounds it.”

Plante said residents will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal at next week’s council meeting.

While Roma was also involved in the MCL Realty contract zone request, the two projects are from different landowners and asking for different things from the council.

MCL Realty, part of the Anania & Associates Investment Company portfolio, would like to build a high-density housing development of 60 apartment and townhouse units on Depot Street, but would need approval from the Town Council to do so because a development of that size would exceed existing village commercial zone allowances for density, building height, setback and buffer requirements.

For example, the group estimates that current zoning would only allow for 32 residential dwellings — about half of the 60 units it hopes to build.

In exchange for being able to circumvent those zoning requirements, MCL Realty says it could provide certain public benefits through the project, such as wastewater infrastructure improvements and potential public park space.

Questions swirled Tuesday night about how exactly those sewer infrastructure improvements would come to fruition and who would pay for them.

Part of the MCL Realty proposal, which appears highly conceptual at this stage, would involve municipal tax increment financing that could shield the tax revenue generated from the project from state assessment and allow it to be put towards the infrastructure costs. 

Peter Anania of MCL Realty also said his group is willing to donate land for a new pump station, which could decrease the cost of the potential sewer upgrade.

Despite raising some concerns about the funding details and size of the project, the council expressed a willingness to have MCL come back with more details about what the project could look like.

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

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