Data Shows Population Growth on the Rise in Windham

January 15, 2016

 

 

by Barbara O’Brien

The Town of Windham is one of the fastest growing communities in New Hampshire and, according to data issued by the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission, can expect to see another 10 percent increase in the next five years.  And, thanks to the adjacent location of Interstate 93, could realize a 38 percent population hike by 2050.

Windham Planning Board Chairman Alan Carpenter, who also served as a former selectman, said that Windham has been one of the top two or three New Hampshire communities for growth since the 1990s.  “The growth has been steady since 1960,” Carpenter said.  Just between 2000 and 2013, Windham saw a population explosion of 30.36 percent, going from 10,709 residents to 13,969 during that 13-year period.

The only time population growth leveled off in Windham began in 2008, due to the economic recession and its effect on development.  In 2014, the increase in population began again, Carpenter said.  It is not expected to cease anytime soon.

Carpenter spoke to members of the Windham School Board during their meeting on Jan. 5, emphasizing the impact future population growth could have on the local school district, which is already splitting at the seams.

Currently, there are 522 people per square mile in the Town of Windham; less dense than area communities that have municipal water and sewer.

Windham continues to be a desirable place to live, Carpenter said.  As a member of the planning board, he has seen drawings for hundreds of two- and three-bedroom apartment developments.  And, recently, the planning board heard of a proposal for 75 townhouses; an idea that must first go before the zoning board of adjustment for a rezoning request.  These types of housing generally bring an increase in children, as well, he explained.  Duplexes and other forms of work force housing are also likely in Windham’s future, he said, meaning approximately 300 more students by the year 2020.  Work force housing would also likely bring more ethnic diversity to Windham, Carpenter noted.

“Population growth is not going to slow down in the foreseeable future; certainly not in the next five years,” Carpenter said.  “We are a desirable community,” and the cost of owning a home north of the Massachusetts border is generally less.  “It’s a privilege to live here in Windham,” he said.

Carpenter said he is a big advocate of collecting impact fees on new residential development.  “It makes perfect sense,” he told school board members.  In comparison to some other area communities, Windham’s impact fees are relatively low, even though they were recently increased, Carpenter said.

As for building permits for new residences, 120 were issued last year and it’s anticipated that an estimated 100 will be issued during 2016.  The median house price in Windham is about $470,000, according to Carpenter, down from the high in 2008, but on the rise.  The average median household income is well above the national average, at $118,000 per year.  “We’re a unique community.  If people can afford it … they want to live here,” he said.

When asked his personal opinion, Carpenter said that a convergence of two things is spurring the continued growth in Windham: the finalization of the Exit 3 area off Route 93 and the resultant residential and commercial development that follows.  “It’s all coming at once,” Carpenter said.  “Good news for tax revenue, but we need to deal with the ramifications.”  One of those ramifications is more children enrolling in the local school system.  “Yeah, they’re coming,” Carpenter said.  “Call it 80 to 100 more students a year.”

During the public input session, resident Rich Amari told Carpenter that the information he had presented “was certainly an eye-opener.”  “These numbers certainly scare me a little bit,” Amari said.  “From a physicality view, how can the school district handle this growth?” he asked.

Carpenter explained that courts don’t tend to say “Stop!  No more growth,” but there are regulations that allow growth management for a limited amount of time, if the situation warrants it.  A growth management ordinance can be used “to slow the pace,” Carpenter explained, stating that such a proposal would have to be proposed by the planning board and approved by voters at an annual town meeting.