January 20, 2017

Town Council revisits Windham Downtown 21st Century Plan By Stephen Signor

At the recent weekly town council meeting, held January 10th, planning director Ben Smith and newly assigned town architect John Earl presented the key components of the 21st Century Plan to council members for their review and consideration. Specifically, the scope of the downtown plan and what is being done by way of improvements was immediately the topic of conversation. Included were five major components: Ordinances (which are in progress), high speed Internet, wastewater, utility relocation and streetscape and pedestrian improvement. 

In a recap to the council members, Smith said, “North Windham is considered the economic center of the community. It is where the restaurants, movie theater and grocery stores are.” Through Portland Area Comprehensive Traffic System (PACT) funding from a safety standpoint was also established and a major element in the presentation.

“They are looking at safety and re-establishing a sense of place for North Windham as an economic and social center so what we’d like to focus on tonight is the streetscape and pedestrian improvement aspect of the plan,” continued Smith.

“Our plan won an award in 2014 and we have done a lot of work in the last couple of years moving various aspects forward. The investments we are going to talk about tonight, some are very easy, such as ordinance changes and some are going to cost millions of dollars, should be looked at as investments. The results will be worth it,” Smith said.

Preliminary engineering is complete on the streetscapes and pedestrian improvement, which specifically target medians, sidewalks, intersection improvements, crosswalks and LED street lighting. All of which would be done on the section of Route 302 from River Road to Trails End, otherwise referred to as, the corridor. “In a MDOT (Maine Department of Transportation) study, that corridor is a long high crash prone section of 302,” Smith pointed out. The estimated ballpark cost associated with this project was determined to be $6.6 million.

Utility relocation would involve burying any and all current utility lines below ground. Doing this would remove the existing unsightly power/ phone cable lines. Being underground would also remove some of the inconveniences related to Maine’s weather. The proposed section for this project would run from Manchester School to the intersection just north of Shaw’s, with a ballpark figure of $8.6 million.

To reiterate the overall plan Smith said, “I think it is important to see this through with good reasons. North Windham can be more, with investments in infrastructure to unlock development potential as well as an increased amount of activity that takes place up there. We need to really take a long view at this part of the town. The community is going to be here for hundreds of years.”

In response, council chair Donna Chapman said, “Falmouth had a similar 3-year project that cost 11.8 million. They took a bond out and you know how successful bonds are here.  I’m in favor of the streetscape and pedestrian improvements, but not sure I am ready to commit to this price tag for utility relocation.” The reasoning was Windham does not have the tax base that Falmouth has. “We also have other big ticket items right now with sewer and a new public works building. I think it is important we get our comprehensive plan adopted so we can chase down funding that would not otherwise be available,” concluded Chapman.

The end result was a question of what happens next. “We need a sense of how we are going to proceed. We are looking for a commitment this evening from the council around what the progress is going to be and what we will be moving forward with. We need a sense from the council this evening because there is a PACT application deadline on February 3rd,” Smith expressed.

While the council is committed to moving forward with the plan, Town Manager Tony Plante said, “There is no vote on the schedule tonight. The goal here is to get a sense of the council and sense of the vision.  We are clearly not ready to take a vote because we don’t have all the pieces yet. It is about articulating a vision.”

When public comment was invited Scott Harriman, president of Cumberland County Federal Credit Union, located at 808 Roosevelt Trail, revisited his concern previously expressed on May 3rd regarding plans to have the median remain. That plan would make turning left, into the credit union impossible. “I want to support the plan, but out of the seven financial institutions along the corridor we are the only (one) impacted by not removing the median. This is a very competitive business so this will have a negative effect. I would like to ask the council to revisit this.”

Thomas Bartell, executive director of the Windham Economic Development added, “We are more than willing and able to work with the town council and town staff in moving any of these components forward and getting to the overall vision.”

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