WINDHAM – At its next meeting Tuesday, April 24, the Windham Town Council is set to discuss two issues regarding business development in town: the role and purpose of the Windham Economic Development Corp. and adoption of mandatory standards governing building design.

A public hearing has been scheduled so residents and those in the business community can address the design standards proposal. While Windham has had a set of design guidelines for new commercial development since July 2005, the council and Planning Board have been discussing for several years whether those guidelines should be mandatory.

The plan calls for a New England-style building appearance requiring contractors to build pitched roofs, install landscaping, and refrain from using metal siding and garish exterior colors. There are still some unresolved areas the council and Planning Board need to finalize, such as at which percentage of renovations the standards would take effect, how long a flat roof and facades could be and how much landscaping would be required within a parking lot.

Most Planning Board and Town Council members are supportive of the proposal, said council Chairman Scott Hayman at the April 10 meeting. Hayman said he opposes the proposal, saying it would put an extra financial burden on small businesses trying to do build or expand in Windham.

“It’s a pretty important piece of the puzzle for the town of Windham because it’s going to change the appearance and it’s going to change the ability of folks to do business in Windham,” Hayman said.

So far, little public comment has been received on what was once a contentious issue prior to 2005, a trend Hayman is hoping to see reversed at April 24’s public hearing.

“It didn’t look like there was a lot of the public that either cared or knew about it because there was no public comment at the last public hearing. That’s unfortunate. I would hope to hear some public input,” Hayman said.

Also on the docket at the April 24 meeting is a discussion of the Windham Economic Development Corp.

At its April 10 meeting, the council voted 5-0 to put a council liaison on the board to provide more direct connection with the council. To further understand the role the WEDC plays, the council also planned a presentation at the April 24 meeting by Windham Economic Development Director Tom Bartell.

The corporation, described by Bartell in an interview last week, was formed by the council in August 1991 and set up according to state law to “allow for access to the corporation in a more confidential or private nature when developers are coming in to look at the community. It allowed for the economic development corporation to talk to developers without it being immediately a public discussion,” Bartell said.

Bartell said the WEDC’s secondary purpose is to “do development projects that are in the town’s best interests.” In the past, the WEDC, with town funding, has purchased land for business development projects at the intersection of Anglers Road and Route 302 as well as Danielle Drive, across from Varney Mill Road.

Into its third decade now, the WEDC is under the council’s microscope of late since the corporation approved a new set of bylaws apparently without council oversight, and because the council in coming weeks will make appointments to the corporation for several open positions. Three of the applicants – Donna Chapman, Bill Tracy and Carol Waig – are former town councilors.

The three became embroiled in controversy in 2010 after the council approved the merger of Windham public safety dispatch with Cumberland County. In the aftermath, Waig resigned from her position on the council in September 2010. Chapman withdrew from the 2010 race for council. And Tracy, who resigned from his position as Windham’s economic development director in 2002, resigned from the council in November 2010.

While the upcoming appointments weren’t mentioned by councilors at the April 10 council meeting, most expressed confusion as to the role WEDC plays in town government. Two councilors – Dave Nadeau and Tommy Gleason – also expressed concern that a non-governmental agency can hold sway in economic matters concerning the town and that a rewriting of bylaws would not need approval by the council.

“If there are bylaws they can create on their own and not bring them back to us, I’ve got a great issue with a pseudo-company that we hold the bag on being able to do a lot of things without councilor intervention, the whole council,” Nadeau said. “I hate to see somebody do something on the outside and have the town responsible for it, without us really knowing what is going on.”

“We should vote on everything WEDC does,” Gleason added. “Any changes they make should come to us.”

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