No green light yet for Windham private roads plan

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Windham resident Scott Mcdonald expresses concern about a proposed private road ordiance change during an Aug. 28 planning board public hearing. 

WINDHAM — The Planning Board has temporarily pumped the brakes on a Town Council proposal that aims to address safety concerns about private road maintenance in Windham.

The board hopes to huddle with the council, town planning staff and legal counsel to better understand the root causes of the recurring issue and possible solutions.

The council sent its proposal, seeking to put new road requirements in place when development is added to an existing private road or private way, to the planning board for feedback. After a long and winding discussion Monday, Aug. 28, that lasted nearly two and a half hours, the board deadlocked 2-2 and failed to pass a motion expressing tentative support for the plan.

According to a memo to the Planning Board from Town Planner Amanda Lessard, the changes would stipulate that when development extends an existing private road or creates a new private road that is accessed off an existing private road, all of the private roads between that development and the nearest public street must conform to a town private road standard.

The proposal would also change standards and definitions for driveways, adjust backlot standards, and require that new roads with direct access to a public street have to meet a local street standard and be offered for public acceptance by the town, according to Lessard’s memo.

Much of the concern from those advocating for action seems to be driven by past cases where new developments have been added on to existing private roads. Several private road residents said during the hearing that developers have failed to make adequate repairs or upgrades to the road despite adding additional traffic and bringing in heavy vehicles and machinery that can damage the road.

The board Monday unanimously passed a motion from Planning Board member Bill Walker calling for a meeting with other town officials and staff sometime in September to further discuss the issue.

Walker urged the board not to be in a rush to move ahead with the council’s proposal.

“If the council’s been working on this for two years, what’s one more month? You put a date on the calendar in the month of September, and the object is to come out of that session with some sort of language that might be better than what you have today, if not have a better understanding of the root cause,” Walker said.  “Are we in such a rush that we’re willing to penalize few, and then have to spend another two years trying to create some relief for them?”

Town Planning Director Ben Smith, along with several members of the community who weighed in during Monday night’s public hearing, acknowledged that the private roads discussion in Windham has been going on for decades.

“No town has got private road issues like Windham,” Smith said, citing the town’s geography and the development pressure that comes with its proximity to Portland.

Several people voiced concerns about or outright objection to the council’s proposal on Monday because of its potential impact on property owners who want to sell part or all of their land or gift it to a family member.

Scott McDonald lives on Inland Farm Road and worries that the proposal would make it financially impossible to gift parts of his land to his sons.

“Making my kids pave Inland Farm Road isn’t helping anybody,” McDonald said.  “I think it’s wrong, and I think anybody that came up with this should be ashamed.”

McDonald also argued that passing the proposed private road requirements would actually make new development so expensive that only large development companies could afford to move forward with new projects.

“You are rewarding the developers,” McDonald cautioned. “I hope you think about it.”

Three town councilors also spoke during the public hearing to clarify their intent with the proposed ordinance.

Councilor Donna Chapman said that she and Councilors Timothy Nangle and Jarrod Maxfield didn’t coordinate their attendance at the hearing.

“None of us talked, we didn’t know that three of us would be here,” Chapman said.

Maxfield laid blame for some of the private road issue on certain developers, but clarified that it was a small group of developers and not the industry as a whole.

“We have a few bad apples that spoil the bunch” and are “cutting corners, basically treating us like chumps,” Maxfield said.

“I’m a business owner. I love business, I’m pro-business – let’s make some dough,” Maxfield said. “But you don’t screw people and the town to do it.”

Michael Manning (not the founder of MGM Builders, who has the same name), who said he lives off Forest Lake, recognized the concerns that some have with the proposed ordinance changes but indicated that developers should work to make sure private roads are safe.

“The McDonalds are the kind of people that make this country great. Passing things down to your family is one of the things that we really cherish in this country,” Manning said. “And there’s no reason that, as we’re working through these ordinances, we can’t come up with some type of language that allows family to stay family.”

He continued, “I actually love living off of a private road. But at the same time, living off a private road should not mean that it’s dangerous. It should mean that it’s private.”

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

Windham resident Scott Mcdonald expresses concern about a proposed private road ordiance change during an Aug. 28 planning board public hearing.

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