Sunday, November 23, 2014

Residents create a community vision in first of two forums - By Michelle Libby

Approximately 50 people attended the first of two forums to help provide vision and a direction for the Town of Windham last Thursday night at Manchester School. 
“After the charter, the comprehensive plan is the second most important document a town can have,” said town planner Ben Smith. With a population of 17,000, Windham’s growth is slowing, but it’s still going up. By the year 2020 it is estimated that there will be over 19,000 people living in Windham. 

The night was about getting ideas out on the table of what Windham needs and things Windhamites want to protect through four worksheet exercises in small random groups.

Knowing where the town has been is important to know where it should go. 

From the last census there has been a population age shift, but not a lot of movement in or out of the community. The growth has been of the 20- to 40-year-olds who are in the “family mode”. Children under 10 also grew in numbers. Single family homes dominate. 

“Housing is just like before, but more so,” said Smith. In 2000, about 20 percent of the town’s valuation was commercial and industrial. Today it’s about 16 percent, according to census information. 

The top five jobs in Windham are in retail, restaurant and hotel, healthcare, public administration (corrections) and manufacturing.  

Windham can not control global impacts, but it can control future housing and commercial building. “We’re starting with a blank slate,” Smith said. 

The information gathered at this vision forum and the one on Saturday, November 22 will be sent to the review team and was held to give the community the opportunity to tell the committee what they think. The purpose isn’t to answer questions, Smith said. “I was surprised at how many people I know here,” said resident Michelle Jordan. “It’s rewarding to feel like you’re part of the process.” She also liked that the mixed groups gave new insight to the various demographics that Windham serves, from the elderly to the working family. 

The plan is scheduled to be completed by early 2017. Before then there will be many opportunities for the community to weigh in with their opinions, said Smith. In a year, all of the information gathered to that point will brought together and the top 20 issues will be presented at community forums and the top five or 10 things to focus on will be discussed. After that it must go through the town council and their vetting process, he added. 

Mark Eyerman from Planning Decisions in Portland acted as the moderator for the evening. The attendees were broken into small groups, each with a facilitator from the review committee. “We listen to what the community has to say and take that under advisement. It’s up to the review team. There will be other opportunities to talk,” said Eyerman, in response to a resident who wanted to know how the information gathered would be used. 

After the first exercise, Shaun Morrison, facilitator for one table, told them, “In 20 minutes a group of seven is not going to solve everything.”

Top issues at this forum, which will be checked against the one on Saturday, were that people liked the schools and educational system, the rural feel, the convenience and accessibility (close to Portland, but not Portland), access to recreation and the opportunities for an active lifestyle, and community spirit and involvement.

Things to improve or change are infrastructure issues, business issues including filling vacant stores, community center, traffic/congestion/curb cuts, library services, protect farms and open space and recreational facilities. 

“It’s similar to 10 years ago. People have the same concerns,” said David Tobin, who has been involved in four comprehensive plans over the years. “Small town feel, rural, how to get through North Windham in the summer. In our group, everyone participated. Everyone had their oar in the water.” 

There is still time to be involved in this first step. The Community Vision Forum will be held on Saturday, November 22 from 9 a.m. to noon in the Town Hall gym. Be heard!

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