Lessard chats with residents at the committee’s public forum in November. File photo

WINDHAM — To address development in town, the Long Range Planning Committee has proposed a new zoning approach that gives priority to rural areas through the regulation of lot sizes and residential density.

Development has been a topic of discussion for months, and residents are concerned about over-development, including the impacts on taxes, schools, roads, water bodies and the town’s rural character. In September 2018, the Town Council charged the committee with reviewing the standards for development in the farm and farm residential zones.

At a July 10 public forum, the third that the committee has held in recent months, Planning Director Amanda Lessard said, “We recognize that rural Windham is a finite resource. We’re balancing this effort between growth and rural Windham and giving some priorities to these rural areas.”

The committee proposed altering what uses are allowed in these two zones by, for instance, banning uses such as medical office or nursing home.

In addition, it proposed changing the zones from farm and farm residential to rural and rural residential. The rural zone would have very low numbers of new homes and would include features such as sawmills and mineral extraction operations. The rural residential zone would have a slightly higher number of new homes but would be protected from “intrusive, nuisance uses,” according to the presentation.

The committee’s third proposal is altering how development is regulated. Minimum lot size and density regulations are currently used to determine how a development is laid out and how many homes can fit on a parcel of land. In the proposal, there would be both minimum and maximum lot sizes as well as maximum net residential density.

As Lessard explained in an interview, a 20-acre parcel with a net residential density of one dwelling unit per two acres and a maximum lot size of one acre could fit 10 dwelling units and 10 acres of open space. The specific numbers and density limits have yet to be set.

Ben Smith, principal at North Star Planning and the town’s former planning director, explained the committee’s three proposed changes at the forum, saying, “Windham is changing, Windham is growing. It will continue to change, and it will continue to grow. The real question for the community is how will that growth take place, where will it take place, how much growth will be allowed in certain areas.”

Resident Jeanne Rhein asked, “Why is there such a need for development? Where did all this growth idea come from? Who’s in charge of saying we have to have all this growth?”

Windham is part of a regional housing market, a regional job market,” Smith replied. “This is a community conversation.”

Resident Dennis Brown asked whether the committee was discussing implementing growth caps or redrawing the town’s zoning map.

Smith said growth caps may be discussed in the future, but there has been little adjustment to the town’s current zone boundaries.

After Smith’s presentation, the forum broke apart into facilitated discussions, where the committee hoped to get public input on where development should be allowed, what uses should be allowed there and how much development should occur.

Lessard said that although “we had a lot of good discussion,” there weren’t many people who filled out the committee’s public survey, which asked for responses to those three questions. The survey is available on the committee’s website, and she hopes that more residents will submit their input.

In the next six weeks, Lessard said, the committee will “distill what we heard from that meeting and get some more input from the public” before creating a recommendation for the Town Council. After presenting that recommendation and receiving council approval, the proposed changes would go through the typical ordinance amendment process.

Lessard said she is examining the issue of impact fees, something that many residents have expressed interest in. The town will also soon be sending out a request for proposals to get a consulting service to assist with creating a new open space plan for the town.


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