Resident Sarah Bronson addresses the Planning Board Monday night. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

WINDHAM — The Planning Board voted Monday not to recommend proposed new subdivision standards to the Town Council that would have prioritized open space and kept the rural character of the town’s subdivisions.

The proposal was formulated by the Long Range Planning Committee, and Planning Director Amanda Lessard presented the new standards at a Town Council meeting June 4. The standards were then sent to the Planning Board for review.

Also on July 22, board members found the preliminary application complete for the 30-lot Land of Nod Road cluster subdivision.

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 overdevelopment, including impacts on taxes, schools, roads, water quality and the town’s rural character.

One change the new standards proposed 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,” Lessard said June 4.

The committee proposed beginning by identifying primary conservation priorities for 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 the open space. The new process, which would be required in the farm and farm residential districts, would be individualized and specific to each location.

Gary Plummer urges the Planning Board not to “piecemeal” a solution to overdevelopment. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

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 8-acre lot minimum.

On Monday night, Lessard explained that the proposal was intended to focus on conservation and address concerns about environmental protection and rural character.

Many board members felt that 8 acres is too large for a single lot. Planning Board member Nick Kalogerakis was concerned that 8-acre lots would decrease landowner rights and land values, which he said is “very concerning.”

Some board members liked the conservation subdivision, particularly the required setbacks and focus on conservation. Others, such as Michael Devoid, disliked offering them as an option in the farm zone.

“It’s better than what we have now,” said board member Colin Swan, “but I don’t agree with all of it.”

Meanwhile, Board Chairman David Douglass supported larger lot sizes, saying that Windham has too many starter homes and not enough mature homes for older families.

“Let’s keep people here, have their second or third home in Windham,” he said.

He also wanted to focus on redirecting growth to growth areas in town rather than “cramming density into the farmlands.”

Nine residents spoke about the proposal during public comment.

Dennis Brown believed that it was “premature to be making recommendations.”

“You’re not going to solve this right away,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to do. Wait to see the whole picture.”

The LRPC is working on a variety of other issues related to growth, including impact fees, an open space plan and the rate of growth in town.

Lessard acknowledged that the proposal does not address all of residents’ concerns, including the current rate of growth or net density.

“There’s only so many things we can do at once,” she said. “We’re just doing this first. That doesn’t mean we won’t get to those other concerns.”

“It feels like we’re putting together a puzzle,” said resident Gary Plummer. “And there’s 100 pieces to that puzzle, but we’re only allowed to look at the first two or three pieces, and we’re supposed to see how it all goes together. We shouldn’t be trying to piecemeal this.”

Sarah Bronson agreed, saying, “The bigger picture is not figured out yet.”

The Planning Board unanimously voted not to recommend the proposed changes to the Town Council and the matter will be turned back over to the Council.

The board granted two waivers for the 30-lot Land of Nod Road cluster subdivision for street line performance standards and street construction design requirements.

However, board members did not approve the application because staff had not had the chance to review Gorrill Palmer’s peer review of the project. Instead, they voted to table it.