The Windham Town Council’s crusade on behalf of private interests will undermine Windham resident’s ability to thrive in a collective manner. An attitudinal fix needs to happen on the council with regard to what they perceive as a property owner’s rights, the expansions thereof, and the automatic third party costs that their decisions will bring about.
Without judicious efforts made by our leaders to negate these expenses to society while helping out private interests, lopsided decision-making will permeate future actions and destroy this community’s ability to advance in sync toward a promising future.
Recently, the council approved spot zoning on a piece of property for Blaine Rich on Route 302. If you don’t know what spot zoning is, don’t feel alone because some members of the council don’t know either, or at least don’t seem to care. Spot zoning is applying a dissimilar zoning ordinance to an individual plot of land within a sizable zoning district and is generally contrary to comprehensive zoning practices. This happens to the benefit of a private interest and contrary to the interest of surrounding property owners and the community as a whole. Whether council members admit it or not, their actions met the definition of spot zoning, and this is a substandard practice.
This request stemmed from Mr. Rich’s desire to market business and professional office space in a building that is currently used for medical offices. Medical offices are an allowed conditional use in the Medium-Density Residential District while business and professional offices are not allowed. To expand the uses of the property and gain an advantage in leasing ventures, Mr. Rich applied for the zoning change of this single parcel to Commercial District III. While business and professional offices may not seem like a big deal, many of the other permitted or conditional uses that come with C-3 zoning are out of character for this area. Mr. Rich gives his word that his only intent is to use the building for business and professional offices. While I don’t doubt his word, there is no legal guarantee that uses will not change by him or a future property owner.
There was no way to have given Mr. Rich the ability to market business and professional offices without granting spot zoning, but there was a way to do it without an indiscriminate expansion of permitted and conditional uses not in line with the identity of the surrounding community. Granting a contract zone would have allowed for the one stated use that Mr. Rich needed for marketability, while excluding the host of additional uses including auto repair shops, hotels, and clubs. Of course, this well-reasoned proposal fell on deaf ears as it probably wasn’t narrow-minded enough to fit into the council’s business-at-any-cost agenda.
If the reasoning behind not pursuing this proposal was Councilor John MacKinnon’s comments with regard to a four- to six-month timeframe to create a contact zone, several individuals in the know that I spoke with provided estimates varying from one to three months. Not long when faced with doing things correctly.
Further, through this entire process, the council and Planning Board were working under the premise that this strip of Route 302 was going to become a C-3 district. After the Planning Board made their recommendation and the Council workshopped Mr. Rich’s request, the Land Use Ordinance Committee met about recent public comment with regard to strip zoning Route 302 to C-3. In the analysis of public comment, the LUOC decided to purse an overlay zone or new zoning district to allow for business and professional offices only because they felt that C-3 was out of character with the area. When this overlay zone or new district is created, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Rich’s parcel will be made to conform to the new zoning, or if he is allowed to keep the C-3 districting.
Allowing Mr. Rich the ability to market professional offices isn’t a bad idea. Doing so through indiscriminate C-3 spot zoning is wrong for Windham, shows deference to private interests, and is a pockmark on this council’s record.
Patrick Corey lives in Windham. Visit his blog at patrickcorey.com to ask questions and leave comments.