Zoning changes, incentives among affordable housing recommendations for Cape Elizabeth

To add more affordable housing to Cape Elizabeth, the city should allow for higher density, provide incentives for developers, streamline the approvals process and partner with neighboring municipalities and nonprofit housing organizations, according to its consultants.

They also told City Council at the third and final Housing Diversity Workshop on Wednesday that residents’ divided opinion on affordable housing is an obstacle to the city’s diversification goals.

Camoin Associates recently completed a housing study for the city that recommends a “moderate” goal of building 200 affordable units by 2032 and an “ambitious” goal of 450 units. From 2010 to 2020, two affordable housing units were built in Cape Elizabeth.

“We’re now in the final part of the study where we’re making strategic recommendations on how to achieve whatever goals the city might want to set,” said Tom Dworetsky, director of research at Camoin. “The city, the citizens’ committee, will be able to review and use this whole report as a reference in the future.”

Barriers to creating affordable housing in the city include zoning ordinances that restrict high-density development, high land costs, and divided public opinion.

“The public has a wide range of opinions on this topic, ranging from strongly in favor, to completely against, and everything in between,” Dworetsky said. “Relatedly, community perception: how potential developers view Cape Elizabeth, based on what happened to past proposals, makes them think about the possibility of trying again to do a project in the city.”

The city council passed zoning changes in October 2021 that would have allowed an affordable housing development, Dunham Court, in the town centre. After a citizens’ petition forced a referendum to overturn these amendments, the developers terminated the project. The upcoming referendum question in the November 8 election was a major driver for the study on housing diversity and the creation of a citizens’ committee on housing diversity.

Camoin recommends rezoning to allow for more high-density development, reduce permit and impact fees, and streamline the affordable housing approval process. They also suggest developing partnerships with regional non-profit housing organizations, collaborating with neighboring municipalities and establishing a housing trust fund.

“Building affordable housing doesn’t mean sacrificing community character,” Dworetsky said. “Good design can really go a long way to ensuring that denser housing can still blend in and contribute to the look of the surrounding neighborhood, the community as a whole.”

Councilors were satisfied with the report.

“This is exactly the work I wanted to see in order to pass it on to our Housing Diversity Committee,” Councilor Penny Jordan said. “I see the work being done here as a huge step forward.”

Council will now begin working with the Housing Diversity Committee on specific goals and strategies for creating affordable housing.

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