Friday, June 26, 2020

Windham Open Space Planning Team seeking mapping input

Windham Planning Director Amanda Lessard looks out over
the town's open space maps. The Windham Open Space
Planning Team has initiated a project for mapping
open space in the town including conserved lands, parks, water
access, and trails, as well as critical habitats and water systems.
By Elizabeth Richards

The Town of Windham is currently working with Northstar Planning and Aceto Landscape Architects to develop an Open Space and Recreation Plan that will help guide decision making around parks, preserves, recreation spaces, trails, and conserved lands.  

“An Open Space Plan will be a guide to elected and appointed town leadership by identifying high priority properties to protect or acquire, provide land stewardship guidance for existing open space lands, identify opportunities to expand connectivity between open space assets, neighborhoods and trails and to outline programs, ordinances, and partners that could be instrumental in securing the future of the identified high priority properties,” said Windham Planning Director Amanda Lessard.

An open space plan is something Windham needs, town officials say.

“Current world conditions have resulted in people taking to the outdoors more than ever. Windham has long needed an open space plan to provide both direction and a mechanism by which to identify and preserve Windham’s rural spaces,” said Linda Brooks, director of Parks and Recreation, in a video on the project website. agreed.

“Rural character is central to Windham’s identity as a community. Being proactive about open space in the face of strong residential growth pressures will help preserve community character and ensure that Windham’s most important open spaces will remain available for future Windham residents,” said Lessard. 

She said that thinking about how to manage and develop Windham’s current open spaces will add value for today’s residents.

Finally, building partnerships with organizations that value conservation and outdoor recreation will help the town meet its own open space goals,” Lessard said.

Currently, the project is in Phase 2, public engagement.  The team is focusing on online engagement through the website,, where there is a community survey, an idea board, and a map room for input. 

“The goal of Phase 2 is to identify the types of open space and recreational uses that are most important to the community,” Lessard said.

The Windham Open Space Planning team has begun mapping open space in the town including conserved lands, parks, water access, and trails, as well as critical habitats and hydrology, according to Lessard. They are looking for input on places that the community feels should be prioritized or preserved in the future.  

The topic of open space planning is a crucial topic to towns and municipalities across Maine and the future of our open spaces is uncertain as development pressures straining open space resources continue as more people move into rural areas surrounding major population centers.

Increasing populations mean the demand for more homes, shopping facilities and recreational activities is rising. But population growth also results in environmentally insensitive development eliminating valuable natural wetlands and vital wildlife habitat from Maine communities.

By mapping current open space, Windham officials can have a better grasp of creating policies used to help protect environmental corridors and natural ecosystems important to the town.

Looking at open space planning now will provide Windham with an opportunity to assess where the town is currently, where the community would like to go and how it might eventually get there, Lessard said.
She said that this type of planning assists in the protection of important open space and will be used to encourage compatible growth in the future by managing aspects of growth and development in ways that preserve, protect, and enhance the environment. And it also can expose potential problems while there is still time to prevent them from arising in the future.

Open space planning and mapping allows the benefits of open space that make up the character of the community and helps protect the "green infrastructure" of a community. It also can provide long term economic benefits by helping Windham avoid the costly mistakes of misusing available resources.

Protected open space typically raises the taxable value of adjacent properties and is less costly to maintain than the infrastructure and services required by residential development.

The maps created by this project will ultimately help the town identify current and future needs of parks, fields, trails, water access, and creation of open spaces.

“Our working definition of open space is the network of permanently protected public and private lands that provide recreational, environmental, and social value to Windham,” said Lessard.

To provide input, community members should visit the Map Room on the website and review the draft maps.  Then, using the interactive map, participants can place pins on places they think should be added to the maps.  In the discussion tab, people can start conversations about favorite places and spots that should be identified and inventoried during the open space planning process.   Users must register on the site to provide input.

Public input will be gathered through July. Once a registered user of the site, people will receive email notification when new content is added to the site. Any Windham resident who registers will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift certificate to the Windham restaurant of their choice.

Toward the end of phase 2, the team will start identifying priorities and at the end of this phase, the team will begin to identify priorities.

A draft plan will be presented for public review in August, and a final plan with recommendations will be ready by late September or early October. <

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