Windham resident Linda McDonald speaks against the proposed amendments Tuesday night. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

WINDHAM — After nearly two hours of discussion Tuesday night, the Town Council appeared ready to send proposed changes to private road regulations to the Planning Board for feedback.

The changes, which were proposed by the Private Roads Ad Hoc Committee, intend to alter some of the governing standards that were instituted by the council in October 2017, Planning Director Amanda Lessard said at the meeting.

The proposals include that when a new private road is built off an existing private road, only a portion of the existing road need be improved to the existing private road standard, not the whole road back to the public road. In addition, a new road being built off a public street need not be built to the public street standard, only to the minor or major private road standard.

The changes also allow new private roads to be built off public streets, which was not previously allowed. And an exemption that had been allowed every five years is proposed to be allowed only once. That exemption allows those building a road only to create the minimum amount of frontage allowed in that district to upgrade a portion of the existing road network rather than the entire network.

Lessard proposed adding some language to clarify that a developer must leave an existing road in the same condition it was in before construction began “to ensure road quality isn’t degraded during construction.”

Councilor Tim Nangle added that the road should be passable during construction.

There is also a waiver process in place for the Planning Board in case certain projects cannot meet standards.

Elaine Pollock encourages the council to pass the proposed amendments. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

Windham has been struggling with private roads for years, including concerns about safety and road maintenance.

Councilor Dave Nadeau supported some of the changes, saying, “Private roads are killing this town. I don’t know of any other town that’s got 50% of its roads private roads. I think this is a decent compromise.”

Councilor Donna Chapman disagreed, saying, “I don’t think we are alone in this or we wouldn’t have so many country-western songs about living on a dirt road.”

She was worried about the impacts such changes could have on existing landowners and their plans for their properties.

We’re never going to be able to fix this,” she continued. “No matter what we do with our standards, what we change, we’re not still going to fix the issue.” 

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield disagreed: “I think we can fix this. I think we have to fix this. The thought that we can’t fix this, that scares the hell out of me because what are we sitting here for?”

He added, “We have some land that is subdivided ahead of time because people are planning on building a slow-roll subdivision. And the rules changed on them, which could happen to any investor in any monetary venture at any time. The town is not here to guarantee somebody’s speculation.”

Lessard clarified that “this draft is designed to make it less impactful for (landowners). This was intended to walk it back some.”

Resident Elaine Pollock spoke during the public comment period and urged the council to move forward with the changes: “I think you’re there. I think what’s before you is quality.”

Resident Linda McDonald disagreed. She has lived in town and paid taxes for decades, she said, and is concerned about the expense of upgrading roads if she were to give some of her land to her family.

The council is “pushing people, and you are stealing their investment,” she said.

“You have changed the rules. You have taken it upon yourself to change them. That isn’t part of your job. Did the oath you took mean nothing to you?” she continued.

The council then ended her comment, with Maxfield calling it “offensive, berating, completely illogical and lacking fact.”

Resident Michael Manning, who serves on the Private Roads Ad Hoc Committee, felt hopeful and encouraged the council to keep moving forward.

People in this room are working together, they’re seeking compromise instead of battle,” he said. “We have to work together. Keep being nice to each other.” 

The council will discuss private roads again at a regular meeting, when it plans to send the proposed changes to the Planning Board with two recommendations.

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