Monday, June 1, 2015

Windham Comprehensive Plan in quiet mode while first draft is written - By Michelle Libby

Although it has been months since the Windham Town Planning office has asked for public opinion on the comprehensive plan, it doesn’t mean it’s not working on the plan and analyzing the data and community input from the fall. Since the public meetings in November, the information gathered has gone before the town council and “inventory chapters” are being done. 

“We’re in quiet mode,” said Ben Smith, town planner. “It’s still a public process.” 

As the review team sorts through the different sections of the comprehensive plan, community members are asked to come in and speak about areas they have an interest in, like the Windham Historical Society, transportation or municipal facilities. 

“This is the most important municipal document a town has. This helps the council set priorities and focus on the areas the community decides they should focus on,” said Smith. 

The comprehensive plan is a 10-year plan an appointed committee devises with community input. The plan is certified by the state. The state also recommends that the town revisit the plan every five years or so to make sure it’s heading in the direction that meets the town’s objectives. The plan looks out 10 years, but can be updated and added to before the time is up.  The timeline for the project has been a survey in October that all of Windham was asked to complete. In November, the committee held visioning forums and in January and February the committee devised a vision and values statement. This statement will “serve as the cornerstone of Windham’s updated comprehensive plan.” The council approved the vision statement and now the review team is working on the 11 chapters. “There is potential for local input,” said Smith. 
The biggest surprise Smith found with the survey given back in October was that what people loved the most about Windham was the convenient access to Portland and recreation opportunities in the mountains and lakes. People found more to like about the location and access when thinking about Windham, rather than thinking about things in the community. One of the biggest concerns was traffic.
By the end of the year or beginning of 2016, Smith hopes to have the first draft of the plan ready for another community forum. Between now and then, meeting notes, draft chapters, lists of plans and studies are all put online for the community to view. There should be no surprises.

The plan is not a “stand alone” effort. Information is taken from the 2003 comp. plan and if useable, it is incorporated into the new effort. 

“We need to think about what these facts are telling us. What can we do that will have the most impact?” Smith asked. The comp. plan also has to take into consideration all of the groups in town, from youth sports to senior housing to historical societies, and strike a balance between them all. 

“It is now more clear that Windham is a town made up of many interconnected communities,” Smith said.
In the past with comp. plans, only about one-third of the recommendations have been implemented. “I’d like to see a small, more focused set of recommendations and that the town council buys into this document and they do them all. It’s important for the town and the town council, it’s their document,” Smith said. 

The top answers to the questions asked in the survey are “advantages to living in Windham –“Proximity to Portland.” Top disadvantage to living in Windham – “Traffic problems.” Top threat to Windham’s quality of life – “Development and congestion in North Windham commercial corridor.” Top priorities for Windham moving forward – 54 percent of people want to keep Windham’s present tax level. The second priority was “improving the traffic flow in the Town’s commercial district” and 46 percent said it was a priority and 57 percent they would raise taxes to fund it. 

To review individual chapters as they become available or to see any of the documents, visit the comp plan document library page or contact the planning department at 894-5960, ext. 2 or email

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