Topsham Comprehensive Plan update to pick up steam

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TOPSHAM — Significant work on an update of the town’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan is expected in 2017.

The update could go to a Town Meeting vote in May 2019.

Meanwhile, a final master plan for Topsham Fair Mall Road could be ready in January.

The ad-hoc Comprehensive Plan Committee, which first met last month, is finalizing a request for proposals for a planning consultant. The consultant will be charged to guide the panel in reviewing and updating the existing plan, and assist in engaging the public in data analysis, Planning Director Rod Melanson said in an interview Monday.

The RFP calls for 18 months of consulting time, “so we’ll be looking for over the next year to be working on the plan and doing the public engagement,” he noted.

Since the original 2005 Comprehensive Plan was adopted, multiple planning efforts directed by the planning document – about Main Street, U.S. Route 196 and the town’s natural areas, for example – have gone to Town Meeting votes.

“We’ve done a lot of planning since that first one,” Melanson said. “This Comp Planning … will be an effort to compile most of the past years of planning, check in with the community (to make sure) we’re on the right track, and perhaps move on from there to make sure that our ordinances reflect what the planning is saying.”

The focus on Topsham Fair Mall Road is another of those many planning efforts. Feedback from stakeholders and community members has been “mostly positive” so far, as evidenced at a Nov. 16 input-gathering meeting, Melanson said.

T.Y. Lin International and Yarmouth-based MRLD Landscape Architecture & Urbanism have been working with the town on the project, which is being driven by data and feedback, the planner explained.

“The roadway currently has enough capacity to go on a ‘road diet,’ and become more accommodating to multiple users,” thereby becoming safer and more aesthetically pleasing, Melanson said.

Several design alternatives that have been under consideration include center medians at locations without intersections, a shared use path, sidewalks, a reduced number of lanes, a roundabout, pedestrian-scale lighting, and trees and rain gardens, according to Mitchell Rasor of MRLD.

Even as portrayed in a 20-year build out, the present capacity – except for the busy stretch between U.S. Route 196 and Monument Place – is not needed, based on traffic counts, Melanson said.

“Topsham Fair Mall Road is not Route 196 or Route 1,” he noted. “It’s an access drive to retail, that then goes back to residential neighborhoods. We wanted to think about this as not being a highway that connects major points; it’s really a community road, it’s a town road. And we want to treat it as such.”

A draft report should be ready next month.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

This visual, developed by MRLD Landscape Architecture & Urbanism, shows a stretch of Topsham Fair Mall Road as it currently exists, compared with improvements that have been proposed for the coming years. Design alternatives that are being considerated in a master plan for the road include center medians at non-intersection locations, a shared use path, sidewalks, a reduced number of lanes, a roundabout, pedestrian-scale lighting, and trees and rain gardens.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.