The Windham Planning Board on Monday night granted final approval to Sebago Heights – a 91-house development off Pipeline Road – despite looming traffic and public safety concerns.

Sebago Heights will be the largest residential development in the town’s history.

After a grueling final meeting where the board worked to resolve all outstanding issues late into the night, the board voted 3-0 to approve the 175-acre subdivision. Two members abstained for lack of knowledge. Board member James Seymour recused himself because of his employment at Sebago Technics, the engineering firm that designed the development.

Prior to the vote, town officials, police, fire and public works all wrote letters to the board with traffic concerns about the subdivision for which Colonial Park Drive serves as the only Windham exit onto Route 302.

Neighbors voiced concerns that traffic congestion and limited access to Route 302 from Sebago Heights would pose a danger to their children and create accidents at the Route 302 and Colonial Park intersection, but developers say the subdivision will be built in a series of phases, reducing the impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

Neighbors protest

Before the development received the green light, neighbors from the surrounding area, including those from Raymond, had their final say on how they felt Sebago Heights would impact their lives and their families.

Louis Sinclair, who lives with his son at the corner of Colonial Park Drive and Pipeline Road, questioned the “accident reviews” conducted by the town, the developer and the Department of Transportation. He said there have been 3 to 5 crashes near Colonial Park Drive in the past six weeks. He also worried for the safety of neighborhood children in the area with increased traffic on the sloping roads.

“They’re blind hills,” Sinclair said. “In the case of Pipeline Road, I know one resident who almost hit a child on her way coming here.”

Sinclair spoke for an unnamed fellow neighbor and concerned parent who had asked him, “If my child is struck due to the increased traffic from this development, who do we sue? The developer or the town?”

Another neighbor Kathleen March had one of her children demonstrate how difficult it is to see a child from a construction truck by having him stand next to the board’s raised seats. March said there are about 14 children who play together in the neighborhood and mentioned that her daughter already raises her hand whenever she crosses the road to make sure cars can see her.

Other neighbors talked of current traffic congestion, the difficulty of pulling out onto Route 302 from Colonial Park Drive, pressure and cost to the town and the danger of having only one approved egress onto Route 302.

Developer speaks

Developers Amy Mulkerin and Greg McCormack, who formed Sebago Heights LLC, worked for more than two years with the board to get this final approval.

Mulkerin said she understands the neighbors’ concerns, but the project will be phased in over a number of years and the neighborhood will not be inundated with 91 houses “overnight.”

“It will be gradual,” Mulkerin said. “It will be something the neighbors will be able to get their arms around and get comfortable with.”

People need housing, she said, and, in other neighborhoods she has developed, neighbors, who were originally concerned, in the end were pleased with the final result.

“Our philosophy is to be proud of what we do,” Mulkerin said.

Mulkerin and McCormack have given 46 acres of “open space” to the town in lieu of a community impact fee. They have also agreed to create sidewalks on Plummer Road and Colonial Park Drive. Those who live on Colonial Park Drive and sections of Pipeline Road will also have the opportunity to hook up to public water at their own expense.

As for the traffic concern, she and her partner have agreed to regrade the entrance to Colonial Park Drive and create a right turn lane exiting onto Route 302. However, “the reality of 91 cars coming all at once is not true,” she says.

As a precaution, the board required that the developers put aside $39,000 in a town account for future improvements to the traffic situation. The Department of Transportation however has not approved a “right-hand turn deceleration” lane on Route 302 heading into Colonial Park Drive.

The developers must also install stop signs at certain intersections in the existing neighborhood.

Issues resolved?

Before final approval, the board worked with legal council and the developer to resolve any outstanding issues. Jim Katsiaficas acted as the town’s attorney because town attorney Kenneth Cole is representing the developers.

For each condition, the board helped the developer achieve their goal of final approval.

Two conditions that held up the process was an incorrect community impact analysis and the lack of a description for a water pumping station that is needed to reach houses in phase 4 and 5 at a higher elevation. The board allowed approval as long as the developer approached the Zoning Board of Appeals with the plans for the pumping station.

The developers must also submit another community impact analysis once the planning office revises old figures.

Handholding?

Robin Damron, who lives with her family on the corner of Plummer and Colonial Park Drive, and other neighbors are disappointed by the board’s decision. She is still concerned about the welfare of her children and doesn’t believe the town can support such a large residential subdivision.

“You got all these people who want to make the big bucks and get out and let all the rest of the townspeople deal with it,” Damron said.

When the board addressed the traffic concern, David Nadeau said the ordinances were to blame. Because the development was okayed by state law, he had no choice but to vote that the traffic did not create an “unsafe situation.”

Sinclair sees the ordinances also as a “weakness,” especially since there is no town ordinance that addresses public safety. He hopes the town will do something to address this in the future.

He also questions the planning board procedure.

“Quite a few of us were puzzled by their willingness to go so far to make this thing work when the fire and police had serious concerns about the development,” Sinclair said.

Board member Nadeau said it was a “unique” situation that the board worked so closely to help the developers get final approval. But this was in order to negiotiate the conditions of the approval, he said. Under state law, the development already had approval and the board was in no defensible position to deny them.

“In my heart of hearts, I have the feeling of many others, but in my position I can’t vote with my heart,” Nadeau said.

Still, some neighbors have questions about the board’s procedure.

“I find it odd that the biggest development in the town’s history was left in three people’s hands,” said Pam Varney who lives on Viola Street.

She is also disappointed that no town officials were present and that the board never read a letter by Raymond Town Manager Don Willard disapproving of the project.

Willard said he is not happy about the development because of the traffic pressure laid on Viola Street and Elizabeth Street which both shoot off Pipeline Road, just across the Raymond border, onto Route 302. However, there is no way to stop traffic from exiting or entering through Viola or Elizabeth Street.

“There’s really not a lot we can do,” Willard said. “We think this is a bad idea. We think this is an ill-advised plan, but our leverage is limited as far as I can tell.”

Ken Grondin of Grondin & Sons is prepared to create a construction access road from his gravel pit to Pipeline Road. His company has been approached to clear trees, create stormwater drainage and create 1.5 miles of road needed for the new neighborhood. Though this road will only be used for his own trucks and equipment, Grondin said he would be willing to open the road in case of emergencies.

With the roads in place, construction of the houses will happen in five phases, averaging 20 houses per phase. How quickly these phases will be completed depends on the strength of the real estate market and construction time, Mulkerin said.

For now she and McCormack are relieved to be done with the approval process and said they are “looking forward to creating a wonderful neighborhood.”

Engineering map of Sebago Heights, a 91-house residential development near the Windham/Raymond border that received final approval Monday night.


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