Recreational/Agricultural Area Being Considered for Town-Owned Land
July 29, 2016
by Barbara O’Brien
The Windham Economic Development Committee’s Land Use Sub-Committee is looking into the feasibility of combining three individual town-owned lots off Route 111 to be developed into a recreational/agricultural area. The three lots include a total of approximately 40 acres. The town-owned acreage abuts a significant amount of conservation land.
Mike Goldenberg, chairman of the land use sub-committee, met with selectmen earlier this month to discuss the concept. The area being considered is located between Windham Center School and London Bridge Road. The idea was first raised during a joint meeting of selectmen and planning board members earlier this summer. Goldenberg emphasized that the idea is only a preliminary concept. “We are looking for support, not approval, at this time,” Goldenberg told selectmen.
The committee’s mission is to review lots that are currently undeveloped and to recommend possible opportunities for development. Committee members took a field trip to Lull Farms in Hollis and Shannon Trails in Atkinson this past March. Goldenberg said the visit to these locations stimulated ideas for potential lot development in Windham. Lull Farms provides high-quality products such as fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses, baked goods, flowers, prime meats, wine and other specialty products. Shannon Trails, which began in the 1960s on 100 acres of land, has evolved into a horse boarding and riding facility, with limited horse rental available to the public.
Following their visit to these two business locations, members of the land use committee came up with potential development plans for the three undeveloped lots along Route 111 in Windham, including a high-end farm stand, a trail system that could provide walking, biking, horseback riding, a zip line, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Other suggestions include a bird sanctuary in the wetlands area, a facility for horses, rental facilities for bikes, cross-country ski equipment and/or snowshoes. Committee members are suggesting that the area might be zoned as rural recreation business. Other suggestions include many possibilities for expanding existing recreational trails, Boy Scout and Girl Scout community service projects, picnic areas with tables, gardening plots for growing food, and a Windham “Overlook Tower.”
According to committee members, pluses for Windham, should this area be zoned as rural recreation business and developed as such, include the enhancement of the town’s rural character and quality of life, the development of family recreational areas for both summer and winter, lessening the real estate tax burden on residents, the creation of a source for healthy fresh vegetables, and a boon to the environment. Committee members say the idea is in keeping with the results of a recent town survey conducted by the planning board.
As for the future, the Windham Economic Development Committee would need to work with the planning board in developing explicit zoning requirements; discuss the concept with SAU 95 administrators and Windham School Board members; and review ideas with the local conservation commission for input and acceptance. Should a new zone be proposed, it would need to be approved by voters at the annual town meeting in March. This area is not currently zoned for businesses.
Selectmen’s Chairman Joel Desilets said the idea being brought forth by the Windham Economic Development Committee is one that is “near and dear to my heart.” “The genesis behind the idea is not to reduce taxes, but to provide additional interesting opportunities for the residents of Windham,” he noted. Desilets said he hopes to gather a great deal of public input on this concept. “I don’t want this property to wind up being another strip mall.”
Selectman Bruce Breton was not enthusiastic about the concept; however, stating that he feels the idea is “not suited for this area.” “It’s ludicrous,” he said. “This is prime real estate,” Breton added, commenting that some 60,000 vehicles a day pass by this property. According to Breton, the Economic Development Committee’s concept for these lots won’t generate high tax revenue.
Desilets disagreed with Breton’s statistics, saying it’s more like 26,000 to 28,000 vehicles that travel along this route on a weekday.
Vice-Chairman Ross McLeod said he believes the idea is worth exploring further. “It might not be the highest and best use,” McLeod said, “but it’s an intriguing concept.”
Selectman Roger Hohenberger suggested that the front portion of the property might be made commercial, while the back land could be used for recreation and agriculture. “Further vetting can’t hurt,” Hohenberger said.
Although no formal vote on the concept was taken by selectmen, the consensus of the board was for land use sub-committee members to continue developing the idea. Economic development committee representatives will meet with selectmen again once the idea is developed further.