WINDHAM — The Long Range Planning Committee has proposed new subdivision standards to prioritize the town’s open space and keep subdivisions looking rural. 

Planning Director Amanda Lessard presented the new standards at a Town Council meeting June 4. 

Development in Windham has been a topic of discussion for months. In September 2018, the council charged the LRPC with reviewing the standards for development in the farm and farm residential zones. Residents packed an Oct. 22 Planning Board meeting to voice their concerns about over-development, including impacts on taxes, schools, roads, water quality and the town’s rural character. 

One of the changes the LRPC proposed, Lessard said at the meeting, is renaming the so-called cluster subdivisions, which permit a reduction in lot size in exchange for half of the available property being preserved as open space.

They are now proposed to be called conservation subdivisions.

The committee also proposed “a new approach (to development) that will focus on the conservation priorities for the town and preserving open space and changing the approach to how a subdivision is designed in farm and farm residential,” she said. 

The committee proposes beginning by identifying the primary conservation priorities on a property, which include water bodies, areas that maintain rural character and scenic resources, such as agricultural fields. 

Those areas would be preserved as open space and must be contiguous. The building areas, roads and lots would then be laid out around these open space areas. 

The new process, which would be required in the farm and farm residential districts, would thus be more individualized and specific to each location, Lessard said. 

The result would be a subdivision that “looks more rural and prioritizes conserving those lands as open space.”

If a developer opts not to create a conservation subdivision, the only available alternative would be a “country estate subdivision,” which is a traditional development with an eight-acre lot minimum. 

The minimum allowable lot size would be reduced for the proposed conservation subdivision, although “it’s not allowing more houses,” Lessard said. “You’re getting smaller lots, but you’re getting the same number (of houses). “

Councilor Donna Chapman disagreed with the reduction in the minimum lot size, saying, “I’m not going to agree to go down to a smaller lot size either. I’d like to not put more on smaller acreage and have it be a little bit bigger lot size requirement.”

Some councilors supported the proposed amendments. 

“If you’re looking at conserving land and trying to keep something rural, this, without a doubt, is the way to go about it,” said Councilor David Nadeau. 

Others expressed concern about the amount of development occurring in Windham, an issue frequently raised by residents. 

“I think the people that are concerned about growth are concerned about numbers, period, bottom line,” said Council Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Cummings. 

Lessard said the committee is working on addressing the number of houses allowed in a development, and those recommendations will be coming before the council soon. 

“This is just one piece of what development in rural Windham looks like,” she said. 

The council will send the proposed amendments to the Planning Board for review. 

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected] 

There was a full house at the Oct. 22, 2018, Planning Board meeting when citizens turned out to discuss proposed residential developments.