WINDHAM – My elderly uncle said it best. Houses were popping up all around his longtime home; when asked how he felt about that, he shrugged and said: “People got to have a place to live.” End of discussion.

Here’s what this unsophisticated man knew down deep in his Yankee bones: Land is a limited resource.

Most resources are limited. They must be managed. And we Americans, long ago, chose a particular management style; chose it because we thought it would make this country strong — and it did. It made us strong because it secured the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

We implement that style through stewardship, because we didn’t create the resources in question, they’ve simply been entrusted to our care.

And here’s how good stewardship works. We citizens relinquish certain private rights to government; we choose to do that in order to establish and preserve the public rights that serve the common good.

We then enact laws and codes — such as a zoning ordinance — to promote and protect that common good; and we trust government to employ those laws for that purpose. Just as our children trust that we, as their stewards, will manage resources so their needs can be met — and, hopefully, leave a little something for them to manage and pass on when they’re in the stewardship seat.

But we can’t be good stewards of Windham’s land supply without a plan — and we have one; and that Comprehensive Plan was shaped by significant public input — not just the vocal self-interest of a few. Windham’s Land Use Ordinance Committee, at the request of the Town Council, drafted a proposal based on that plan. It was a modest attempt to begin its implementation.

Out of curiosity, we took the Comprehensive Plan and crunched a lot of numbers. Back in 2002, it looks like about 75 percent of Windham’s open land was targeted to be saved (see the plan’s Future Land Use map). Of course, some land has been lost to low-density development since then.

LUOC’s recent proposal was Windham’s sane and significant chance to strike a blow against that sprawl, and snatch her open space from sprawl’s greedy jaws.

And that change wouldn’t endanger farms, as some have claimed. Here’s the relevant excerpt from Windham’s letter (last March) to Danny Plummer, one of the two small farmers in the zone: (Under a zone change to Residential Medium) “ if your entire farm operation ceased to exist for more than two consecutive years, the farm could be re-established at that point, the raising of chickens and pigs would not be permitted .”

Well, a small group killed LUOC’s proposal last Tuesday night, while the rest of us were weeding our petunias. And they used fear of the “D” word — developer — to do it. (A number of those folks have homes made available through a developer’s efforts.)

If we thwart attempts at stewardship just because they happen to align with profit motive, then Maine will continue to see rising budgets and declining services. Windham faced such a budget challenge this year, and taxes increased and services were cut. Thanks to responsible leadership, we’re still OK. But the town can only do so much without our help.

Which circles us right back to where we started — with my uncle.

Many who opposed the change to medium density have children — like the children they do not want living in their backyard.

It’s interesting that my uncle brought no children into this world; no kids needing to be housed, clothed, fed, educated and cared for with limited resources — yet he was still willing to share. He understood and honored stewardship.

Who would you rather have running your town? (To say nothing of your country.)

Debate is vital to any enterprise; but, once all voices — all voices — are heard, we must make choices that reason, not emotion, will promote the greater good.

Or there will be no place for our kids to live and work and play in this world.

 

– Special to The Press Herald