WINDHAM — The Town Council may decide next week whether to lift its moratorium on development in Windham’s portion of the Highland Lake Watershed.

Windham councilors first approved the 180-day emergency moratorium in September 2017 following concerns about the 623-acre lake’s health and a mysterious algae bloom, and they extended the measure earlier this year.

“In my opinion, I think the town should look at what we’ve accomplished and be satisfied that they’ve improved the situation, and vote to lift or rescind the moratorium so that the landowners who’ve been waiting patiently and paying their taxes can have an opportunity to move forward,” Windham resident Larry Eliason told the Town Council last week.

The original moratorium halted most development in the Windham part of the watershed, including construction of single family homes and larger projects like a proposed manufactured housing park and mixed-use development from Chase Custom Homes & Finance.

When the council in April approved an extension of the moratorium through late August, it also scaled it back and left it in place only for larger projects requiring site plan or subdivision review. That allowed smaller projects that had been caught up in the moratorium to move forward.

Over the course of the 10 months that the moratorium has been in place, Windham has instituted several ordinance changes specifically within Highland Lake watershed aiming to bolster water quality.

Those changes include new surface water-protection ordinance requirements, a decrease in the allowed phosphorous allocation for a subdivision or site plan project, removal of the ability for a subdivision developer to pay a fee in order to exceed the phosphorous limit, and a prohibition on density bonuses for cluster subdivisions.

The Highland Lake Association has supported the moratorium since the beginning and raised alarms about the health of the lake – particularly in the wake of a temporary bloom, believed to be cyanobacteria, that has emerged the past four summers.

Now that the new protections are in place, at least two councilors who voted to enact the moratorium would like to see it lifted so that development projects can once again proceed.

“I am extremely disappointed in the council that we have not rescinded the moratorium on Highland Lake,” said Councilor Jarrod Maxfield, citing the new ordinance changes. “I had been told that after that happens – after we had created new rules for new houses, smaller projects, after we’ve created new rules for subdivisions to keep them from creating more issues – that we would be in a position to lift it.”

Councilors Tim Nangle and Dennis Welch agreed with Maxfield that the time has come to lift the moratorium.

“It’s coming up, but the water quality has not improved, and we have a lot more work going on over there,” Chairwoman Donna Chapman said in response to public comment on ending the moratorium during last week’s meeting.

Chapman also serves of the Highland Lake Joint Leadership Team created to facilitate cooperation between Windham, the lake association and the town of Falmouth.

Most of the lake’s shoreline falls within Windham or Falmouth boundaries, with some of it also falling within the town of Westbrook, which is not involved in the joint leadership team.

Windham Town Manager Tony Plante said that as of Tuesday, his understanding was the council would be voting on it at the July 24 meeting.

Highland Lake Association board member Dennis Brown has repeatedly expressed concerns about the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s review process, and whether there’s a gap between what towns think the DEP is reviewing and what the agency is actually taking a look at.

“There’s a hole here,” said Brown, who clarified that his is “not trying to play games” or moving the goal post on lifting the moratorium, but is “trying to be reasonable” in order to protect the watershed.

Matt Junker can be contacted at 781-3661 ext. 123 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattJunker

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