Windham buys 10.3-acre parcel to help alleviate traffic snarl

By John Balentine jbalentine@keepmecurrent.com | 0 comments

To alleviate traffic woes in North Windham, the Windham Town Council voted last week to purchase 10.3 acres in North Windham for $455,500.

The land, situated at the intersection of Anglers Road and Route 302, will primarily allow for the reconstruction of what town planners have long considered a dangerous intersection.

“This project is multi-purposed. It’ll provide access to fix the intersection, and the secondary benefit is economic development,” said Tom Bartell, Windham’s economic development director, who approached the owner of the property, Windham resident Tony Vance, four months ago.

With last week’s go-ahead from the council, Bartell said the town was scheduled to close on the property Wednesday. Vance, who bought the property in chunks over the past five years, attended the council meeting last week.

“We were going to do something, but when the market tanked like it did, we backed off on that,” Vance said.

Vance said “this is good for the town” because it’ll give the town access to Chaffin Pond, which borders the rear of the 10-acre parcel, and allow for a realignment of Anglers Road. “I’ve heard horror stories, people running red lights, accidents,” Vance said.

Windham Police Lt. David DeGruchy said the intersection is a hazard and that an accident, especially west of the intersection, can cause traffic headaches that reverberate along the length of Route 302.

“It’s awkward as all get-out. With that (Anglers Road) offset, it’s obviously not set up for safety, especially with two lanes pinching off into one. That can cause a lot of road rage, so any updates can only help the situation up there,” Degruchy said.

The plan, according to Bartell, is to work with the Maine Department of Transportation to rebuild the intersection so Anglers Road intersects with Route 302 directly across from where Whites Bridge Road enters Route 302. Bartell said having a cross-shaped intersection will allow for shorter wait times for Route 302 traffic, thereby allowing for better traffic flow through busy North Windham especially during peak summer use.

At last week’s Town Council meeting, where the measure passed 5-1 (Donna Chapman opposed), several councilors requested Bartell speak with the Department of Transportation about extending the two-lane section of Route 302 further north to mitigate the bottleneck in front of Allied Real Estate. Bartell said the state’s preliminary redesign allows for a turning lane at Anglers Road and extends the two lanes to an area closer to Seacoast Fun Park.

Once the intersection is reconstructed, the town hopes to sell off remaining lots to commercial interests. In this manner, Bartell said the town would recoup some of the $455,000 it has spent on the land. If land values go up, any excess revenue from the sale of the parcels “would be used for further economic development,” Bartell said.

Bartell said the town used money from two tax increment financing districts – $273,300 from the Pipeline Development fund and $182,200 from the Windham Development District North fund – to purchase the 10.3- acre parcel from Vance. The purchase price was determined by the assessed value of the property as set by the tax assessor, which Bartell said was $20,000 less than the current appraised value.

The price tag and fact that Vance wasn’t able to sell off lots at the site worried Councilor Chapman, who voted against the purchase.

“That property has been up for sale for a very long time, and that concerns me. It concerns me that we’re going to take TIF funding and purchase that to try to realign the roads, which in my opinion won’t help our bottleneck.”

Bartell admitted there is risk inherent in the project, but even if the town is unable to sell off the property, the benefit to traffic flow is worth the risk.

“We really do believe that once this roadway and the right-of-way is put in that we will be able to come up with parcels that are valued at least equal to the cost of the mortgage. That is our intention. That’s our hope,” Bartell said.

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