Cape Elizabeth applies brakes to multi-family housing effort

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CAPE ELIZABETH — After hearing residents’ concerns, town councilors decided to continue discussion on a proposed land-use ordinance amendment.

The amendment, designed to promote development of multi-unit housing, provoked objections from several residents on April 6. The Town Council voted to discuss the proposal in more detail, rather than send it to the ordinance committee.

The amendment for multiplex housing is one of several to the town’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. The Planning Board discussed and recommended it to the council on March 23.

The developments would be intended for senior housing. 

“The current housing available for our seniors who want to transition out of single-family homes is very limited, and adding multi-family units could meet that need,” the Planning Board said in its memo to councilors. “More generally, diversifying the housing types can meet needs for more than seniors.”

According to the town website, the amendment proposes “reducing the minimum lot size required for a multiplex, and allowing one- and two-bedroom units to count as a fraction of a unit.”

Developers who preserve open space when building would also be offered density bonuses up to 30 percent, which could lead to taller buildings.

But resident Ted Owens said the results of a 2005 survey of residents prior to the creation of the Comprehension Plan showed that this type of housing is not desired.

“Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe through this plan, 70 percent of Cape residents over 65, which includes me, were cited as being satisfied with the housing in Cape Elizabeth, and looking for senior housing was not a priority for them,” Owens said.

According to a report detailing the results of the survey, things found not to be important to residents were “the development of affordable housing” and “the development of a variety of housing types.”

Former Councilor Sara Lennon said the benefits of multiplex housing wouldn’t outweigh the negatives.

“Is this open space that we gain worth risking what we will in our neighborhoods: the close-knit sense of it, the intimacy, the livability, and frankly, the aesthetics of them?” Lennon said.

She told councilors to take time to think about what residents actually want. 

Councilors unanimously decided to move the proposal to a workshop, which was not scheduled. An alternative was to send it to the three-person ordinance committee, where the idea would be discussed, amended, and sent back to the full council for final approval.

Councilor Molly MacAuslan said she wants to talk about multiplex housing in more detail, so all the concerns brought up can be talked through.

“My issue was with the underlying concern about where we are headed as a community with our open space, with our setbacks, with our height limitations,” MacAuslan said. “If that is the underlying issue we need to address, we should talk about that in workshop before we send it to ordinance and spend a lot more time on it.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.