WINDHAM – Heritage Metalcraft, the unsightly building across from the skate park on Route 202 in Windham, is on the verge of getting a new owner.

The Windham Town Council Tuesday night approved 5-1 (Donna Chapman dissenting and John MacKinnon absent) to authorize a prospective developer to build at the polluted site.

Enthusiastic that someone wants to improve one of Windham’s prominent eyesores, councilors expressed their desire to work with the developer, Jay Hackett, owner of Windham Rental on Route 302, primarily because Hackett would remove hazardous waste both inside the building and strewn about the 2-acre property. While the town has helped Hackett with environmental testing, Hackett would be responsible for the costs of a cleanup.

According to Town Planner Brooks More, with the council’s vote to approve a contract zone on Tuesday night, Hackett is allowed to expand the uses of the property to fit his yarn wholesaling business. The new zone designation primarily reflects the uses of the surrounding farm residential zone but also adds a few additional uses, including distribution center, light industry, retail sales and private and public warehousing. Outdoor sales would not be permitted on the property.

According to Hackett, the building could either be renovated or rebuilt depending on what building contractors find upon inspection. Hackett told the council he wants to overhaul the property partly because it’s an eyesore in his own neighborhood. Heritage Metalcraft went out of business more than five years ago.

If the building is found to be beyond repair, Hackett said he would likely renovate and possibly increase the building’s height “a few feet” above its current 20 feet.

“This isn’t a gem of a property. There’s a lot of issues with this property,” Hackett said. “There’s back taxes. There’s liability to the town … You can see holes right through the walls. There’s windows busted out. There’s a swastika on one of the refrigerators inside. You’ve got contaminants out back. You’ve got lead in the ground. This isn’t a big jewel of a property.”

Noting that there have been several developers who have looked at the property in the last few years, Hackett said he stands out since he lives nearby.

“One of the reasons we went with this property is because we’re abutters,” he said. “We live a half, three-quarters of a mile away. We drive by it all the time. We take our dogs on Swett Road all the time. And every time we drive by we’re like, somebody has to do something with this property. That was one of the reasons we got interested it, and are trying to work something that would be beneficial to ourselves and to the town both.”

Chapman said she was concerned about the height of the building, saying the area would suffer from a renovated building that could reach 35 feet. She preferred a clause that would restrict the building to 25 feet. That proposal was not supported by other councilors.

“I really have an issue with a 35-foot building down there,” Chapman said. “I don’t want to see 35 feet over in that area.”

Councilor Peter Busque countered Chapman, saying the building would mirror the other large buildings in the vicinity.

“I’m going to have to support it because we have the public safety building at 35 feet,” Busque said. “We have the school, which is probably 40 feet, town offices at 35 feet. We have the town attorney telling us we might get sued if we put a (height restriction) stipulation like that, which isn’t good. I don’t think it would be an eyesore. If he has to tear the building down he’s not going to invest the money in a building that big and make it look like junk.”

Nearby Cook Road resident Tommy Gleason, speaking at the meeting, also opposed the project on the height basis.

“I am concerned about the height of the building, a couple feet I have no problem with,” he said. “But I don’t want to see a warehouse down on that property. It’s not right. It doesn’t fit in the area down there.”

Another nearby resident, Lyle Allen, who lives a quarter-mile from the property, was in favor of the project.

Speaking of the graffiti and general state of disrepair of the building, Allen said, “I believe that that devaluates my property. And I believe that if Mr. Hackett took over the property that would be addressed.”

Hackett has yet to purchase the property. Before doing so, he is working through the necessary hoops, one of which was the contract zone approved Tuesday night, which will allow him to use the property as his yarn wholesaling business would require.

The next step is to work with the town, primarily Windham’s economic development director, Tom Bartell, to see if the pollution on the property would qualify for federal Brownfield grants, which could offer significant funding to clean up the slag that has been dumped on the property.

“If he buys it, he’s going to need a cleanup plan,” Bartell said, adding that Maine Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency are “really excited” about someone buying the property and dealing with the on-site pollution. Bartell is awaiting a final report that will detail exactly the scope of pollutants located on the property.

“It’s mostly lead and that sort of stuff they would have used with the refining and sandblasting that they did. They made ornamental address signs, eagles, metal foundry stuff,” Bartell said.


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