WINDHAM — Town councilors vigorously discussed cluster subdivisions at their meeting Tuesday night, going beyond a discussion of the ordinance amendments proposed by the Planning Board, which were “not good enough.”

Cluster subdivisions permit a reduction in lot size in exchange for half of the available property being preserved as open space. Since last year, the town has seen a three-fold increase in building permit applications, the majority of which are for cluster subdivisions.

Town Planner Amanda Lessard and Long Range Planning Committee member Allan Phinney presented the ordinance amendments proposed by the Planning Board. The changes include clarifying that open space in cluster subdivisions is permanently set aside for protection from development and removing density bonuses — which allow for more houses on a lot if the open space is made available for public use — from farm and farm residential zones.

One topic of much discussion was the assertion that cluster subdivisions do not look rural like their surroundings.

Phinney recommended buffers of trees, while Councilor David Nadeau favored design standards and requiring features like stone walls and trees to increase a property’s rural character.

“What we have to do is look at the way it’s designed,” Nadeau said.

Development in Windham has been a topic of discussion for months. At a Sept. 25 meeting, the Town Council approved a work plan for the Long Range Planning Committee that includes investigating zoning ordinance amendments and impact fees. Residents packed the Oct. 22 Planning Board meeting to voice their concerns about recent over-development, such as the impacts on taxes, watersheds, schools and the town’s rural character.

Residents are also concerned about the location of the proposed developments. Windham’s Comprehensive Master Plan, adopted in 2017, maps out several growth areas where “future growth is to be targeted and encouraged or incentivized.” The majority of proposed developments are not in growth areas.

Phinney suggested using permit caps to drive developers to certain sections of town.

Councilor Donna Chapman voiced her support of taking cluster subdivisions out of the farm and farm residential zones entirely. Councilor Bob Muir and Council Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Cummings agreed.

Councilors Jarrod Maxfield and David Nadeau disagreed. Maxfield said, “We in Windham are not using the tool that cluster subdivision could be.”

Councilor Tim Nangle did not have a strong opinion one way or the other, and Council Chairman Clayton Haskell did not give his opinion.

Nadeau pointed out that two-thirds of Windham is in farm or farm residential zones.

“Saying that you’re going to remove it from farm zones is totally limited,” he said.

Residents spoke vehmently about growth in Windham and recommended a variety of solutions.

Chapman was emphatic about the council, the Planning Board and developers working together. “How do we get so that we’re all on the same page and doing what’s best for the residents of Windham?”

After hearing comments from the council and residents, Lessard said, “These amendments that were before you were a small attempt to take a step forward, and clearly we’re hearing that it’s not good enough.”

The council Tuesday also received training on Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, including the rules of executive sessions, from Stephen Langsdorf of Preti Flaherty, who represents the town.

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-7103 or at [email protected]

Councilor Donna Chapman on Tuesday vehemently advocated for removing cluster subdivisions from farm and farm residential zones.