A few weeks ago a meeting took place, at which time, council members and the public heard from Planning Director Ben Smith on what was termed, an introductory session on form based codes and how they apply to the 21st Century Downtown Plan. In a follow up meeting that took place more recently, members of the Town Council listened to an updated presentation by both Director Smith as well as Kara Wilbur, representing the Maine Design Shop. The purpose of the meeting was to further enlighten council members and the public on the specifics of the proposed code changes, by providing a more detailed look at the cause and effect.
Wilbur presented scenarios to help everyone understand what these developments and the application process would look like, and how that would all potentially work under form based codes. In a recap, Wilbur stated, “The hope was creating a form based code that is a more simple predictable set of regulations that people can easily absorb, understand, know what is expected and get their projects through the process with outcomes that are in keeping with the process that you all want as a community.”
Working from the town’s planning process, an understanding was gained about what the hopes were for this area and the desire to work with people to understand the concepts of character based codes. “We’re trying to peel back some of the regulations that don’t contribute to character and simplify the ordinance so that it is known what can be expected and get through the process,” explained Wilbur.
Using a map color coded by district, a number of areas were discussed and examined that included, but were not limited to, lot dimensions and where a building goes on a lot. “This is allowing for a mix of building types and creating mixed use buildings closer together to create a walkable street neighborhood,” said Wilbur. Within this neighborhood, for example, there may be store fronts facing the street. “Some areas or districts have been identified where there may be a retail street with a flexibility of use to those with more than one story or depending on lot size,” she continued.
“In short, the idea here is, each one of the identified character districts, will go from a lower level of density to a higher level. This is a subset of a whole range of very rural, undeveloped properties, to a very urban kind of development you don’t see in town today. The idea is, we will be allowing for more things to happen using this process,” concluded Smith.
Council members agreed, after having numerous questions and concerns answered, that changing the land use ordinances to a form based code would encourage current businesses to flourish and/or expand. It will also make North Windham a more attractive option for new businesses to pursue development. This could potentially increase property values while lowering tax burdens on residents, something that has long been a sore spot.