Cape Elizabeth effort to boost multi-family housing continues to meet resistance

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors Tuesday sent a land-use ordinance amendment designed to promote multi-family housing to the ordinance committee.

The amendment was discussed in a Town Council workshop, after an April 6 meeting where several members of the public objected to the amendment.

Tuesday’s reception was no different.

“I just don’t understand where the impetus to make this change is coming from,” resident Tony Owens said.

The amendment for multi-family housing is one of several proposed to the town’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. The Planning Board discussed and recommended it to the Council on March 23.

It would reduce the minimum lot size required for a multi-family building, and allow one- and two-bedroom units to count as a fraction of a unit.

Councilors discussed the possibility of three- and five-story buildings being developed in town; they ultimately decided not to consider the 50-foot option.

Of the 30 people present at the two-hour meeting, about half of them expressed opposition. Even with five-story buildings off the table, most weren’t pleased with the prospect of three-story buildings.

“I don’t feel that fits the character of Cape Elizabeth and what attracted us to move here,” Nicole Lewis said.

Former Councilor Sara Lennon agreed, and added that residents don’t want large buildings built near them.

“It’s rather intrusive if you live in a neighborhood having that type of building built near your home,” Lennon said.

Councilor Caitlin Jordan expressed that concern, too.

Town Planner Maureen O’Meara assured councilors and the public that the question of big buildings being constructed next to small homes is covered under site plan review. If the land-use amendment is adopted, developers would still need to go through a review process, which would take nearby homes into consideration, she said.

O’Meara said the multi-family buildings would in particular meet the needs of senior citizens looking for housing in Cape Elizabeth. She said older people often prefer one-story buildings because of mobility issues, but in three-story buildings, elevators can be installed to alleviate this problem.

O’Meara said “stacking” housing also helps preserve open space and farmland.

“There isn’t a town out there looking as hard to save farmland as Cape Elizabeth,” she said.

Developers who preserve open space in their projects could also be offered density bonuses up to 30 percent, which could lead to taller buildings. Councilors decided this should be weighed by the ordinance committee.

The committee, made up of Councilors Jamie Wagner, Jessica Sullivan, and Jordan, has not scheduled a discussion of the issue. When the committee is done, the amendment will come back to the Town Council for a public hearing.

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.