Private road exemption sent to Planning Board for review


WINDHAM — An exemption to new private roads requirements the Town Council passed last fall is on its way to the Planning Board.

While no vote was taken, Town Manager Tony Plante said the proposed exemption could be sent the board for its recommendation without a vote this week. The proposal would come back to the council for a vote following input from the Planning Board

In October, the council passed private roads ordinance changes that aimed to address road maintenance and safety concerns, particularly in cases where new development is added to existing private roads.

Changes included a requirement 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.

At a council workshop in late November that included Planning Board members, Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf said the private road changes passed in October were “cold, hard medicine” seeking to address some development concerns.

It was at that same workshop that Windham’s chief code enforcement officer, Chris Hanson, suggested a potential exemption to allow for some small-scale development of one or two lots without requiring an upgrade of the entire road network back to the nearest public way.

Hanson and Town Planning Director Ben Smith brought a formalized draft exemption stemming from Hanson’s idea before the council at it’s Jan. 16 workshop.

Under the proposal, new private roads or extensions to an existing private road would be exempt from the requirement to upgrade the entire road network if the “cumulative length of the new road or road extension(s) is no greater than the length of the required frontage in the applicable zoning district within a five year period.”

Councilor Dennis Welch, who was chairman of the council in October and supported the new private roads requirements, was encouraged by the proposal.

“I think this is a great compromise and I want to thank the Planning Board members that came in, met with us, and staff, because we worked together and came up with, I feel, a good compromise,” Welch said. “As long as you’re comfortable there’s no loopholes.”

Hanson responded that he “can’t guarantee that anything is ever bulletproof” but said staff have “tried to poke holes in it” to see how people might try to get around it. He thinks it’s a “good start” that could be tweaked in the Planning Board discussion.

Councilor Timothy Nangle expressed concern that people might take advantage of the exemption, subdivide a large lot, and gift smaller lots to family members and “extend the road as long as necessary.”

“When we talked about this initially, it was tied to the original lot, the non-subdivided lot,” Nangle said. “And there’s nothing in here about that.”

Smith responded  that he’s “as confident as I can be” that tying the requirement to lot frontage would not create a loophole.

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield, who like Nangle voted for the changes in October but also expressed some support for Hanson’s idea in November, raised quesitons this week but eventually seemed satisfied.

“I’m in. I’ll trust you,” Maxfield said after an explanation from Plante.

Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman, one of the two councilors to oppose the new private road requirements last fall, said the proposed exemption was “a good start” and should go to the Planning Board.

“I’d say we can just send it to the Planning Board based on the discussion tonight, and not have to wait another week,” Plante said.

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