In a somewhat surprising development it was announced on Wednesday, January 13 that Ryan Development, LLC, is no longer authorized to represent the owner of the property where the Ledgeview project was to take place. The town of Windham was asked to withdraw all the pending applications by Ryan regarding this project.
This is good news! Ledgeview was going to be a very dense shopping center, which did not come close to complying with the Watershed Protection Ordinance. But it is not necessarily gone forever. It is possible that that the disagreement between the owner and Ryan could be resolved and the Ledgeview project re-presented in the future. More likely, the owner could engage another developer and a different plan for commercial development could be presented.
Following is a summary of the Ledgeview project and the actions your CLPA took to oppose it.
The project was to be located near exit 3, in both the Cobbetts Pond and Canobie Lake watersheds. The land is located between the new alignment of Route 111A and the northbound lanes of I-93, in what was formerly the median of I-93. It abuts the Common Man restaurant on the south and Route 111 on the North. The site is about 30 acres in size.
The Ledgeview shopping center was to have 273,000 square feet of retail space (about 6.5 acres), with a hotel, cinema, large grocery store, retail stores, banks, restaurants, etc. The first public action Ryan took was to apply to the Windham Zoning Board for a variance that would allow them to have 55% impervious surface (roofs, roads and parking lots) where a maximum of 30% is allowed by the watershed protection ordinance. It was not even close to the limit!
The Canobie Lake Protective Association (CLPA) and the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association (CPIA) agreed to work together to oppose this project. It would negatively impact both lakes and it would violate the ordinance we're counting on to protect our lakes. We hired an environmental engineering company and a lawyer to represent us at the ZBA hearing on November 10, 2015. They testified that allowing so much impervious surface would harm the lakes and their tributaries in a number of ways, and that the legal requirements for a variance were not met. The hearing was long. In the end the ZBA agreed to continue the hearing to a date in January, to allow the developer to prepare a “hydrology study” and to allow an engineer working for the town to review and comment on it.
Ryan's second step was to ask the Planning Board to propose an amendment to the Watershed Protection Ordinance which would eliminate the 30% maximum impervious area for commercial developments under certain circumstances. The lake associations objected (there was a large turnout of lake association members). The Board voted No, but they did offer to consider the topic in public workshops during 2016. Ryan said that was not soon enough for them.
Ryan's third step was to propose a change to the ordinance via citizens petition. Technically this petition is not proposed by Ryan, but by Windham citizens. However it's clear that the petition was made to support Ryan's interests. Again many members of the lake associations came to the Planning Board meeting on January 13, 2016 to show their opposition.
Because the petition had enough signatures it will be on the Town ballot in March. At this meeting the Board needed to vote to Recommend, or Not Recommend the petition to the voters. Nobody showed up to speak in favor of the citizens petition. The environmental engineer hired by the lakes associations explained how the water quality of Cobbetts Pond is measurably declining, and that Canobie Lake is in jeopardy of doing the same, and that this is due to insufficient regulation of development in the watershed. He urged the board not to weaken the Watershed Protection Ordinance. Leaders of the CLPA and CPIA also gave more reasons why the petition should not be passed, including some unintended consequences. The Planning Board voted 7-0 to Not Recommend the citizens petition.
We are hopeful that the Board's decision to disapprove with a unanimous vote will sway the town voters in March. But it's not over until the votes are counted, so we need to campaign for a no vote in March.
In conclusion, a development which would have been very bad for the lakes long-term health has been prevented. Our opposition may have been partly responsible for the owner's decision to part ways with Ryan. It has taken a lot of our time and money to get this far. But it shows that a dedicated group of citizens can influence how the town develops.