Cape Elizabeth finally hires consultant for housing study


CAPE ELIZABETH — City officials have finally hired a consultant to conduct a housing diversity study, and they are establishing a public review process intended to ensure transparency in the wake of the city’s affordable housing controversy. ‘last year.

A developer who planned to build an affordable housing complex in the city center pulled out in November in the face of determined opposition. The study aims to identify obstacles and opportunities in the effort to create affordable housing in the city.

The city council this month authorized a contract with Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, New York, selecting the firm from among seven applicants who ultimately sought the project after no one responded to an initial request for proposals issued in November. .

Faced with a tight job market and community sentiment expressed against local consultants who might have applied under different circumstances, the city issued a new RFP in February that increased funding for the study by $20,000. $ to $50,000 and moved the completion deadline from May 15 to August 15. 30.

Camoin Associates will do the job for $45,000. Its staff have carried out similar studies in the Carrabassett Valley, Kennebunkport, Mount Desert Island, Deer Isle and Stonington, as well as for the Scarborough Downs redevelopment project. The company also has several members with homes or other ties to Maine.

The council’s ordinance committee recommended Camoin after interviewing five of the applicants who had experience in housing studies.

“All applicants had clearly done their homework,” said city planner Maureen O’Meara. “Camoin Associates had a great proposal and they have a lot of experience.”

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In November, Portland’s The Szanton Co. suddenly dropped its proposal to build a 46-unit apartment complex next to City Hall and the new Village Green. Opponents had fought the project for months and then collected enough signatures to force a referendum on recent council-approved zoning amendments that allowed the complex to be built.

The Szanton Co. wanted to build Dunham Court next to the historic Town Hall and the new Village Green in Cape Elizabeth. The developer scrapped the $13.5 million project last year in the face of continued opposition. Architect rendering courtesy of The Szanton Co.

The council has scheduled the referendum on the zoning changes for Nov. 8, in the state’s next general election, to determine whether the amendments should stay in place and retain the potential to affect future downtown development. . Szanton requested the changes so the project could exceed height and density limits and not be required to have commercial tenants on the first floor.

Dunham Court would have been the first affordable housing project in Cape Elizabeth in 50 years, at a time when affordable housing became extremely scarce in Cape Elizabeth, throughout Greater Portland and beyond.

In 2021, MaineHousing considered the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Greater Portland to be $1,592. The quasi-state agency defines “affordability” as housing that costs no more than 30% of household income.

In Cape Elizabeth, renters needed an annual household income of $92,000 to rent a median-priced two-bedroom apartment, which costs about $2,300 a month, including utilities, according to MaineHousing. The prospective homeowners needed an annual family income of $174,000 to purchase a home at the median price of $625,000.

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Dunham Court supporters believed the town center was exactly where an affordable housing project should be, within walking distance of the local supermarket, pharmacy, public schools, community centre, police and barracks Fire Department and the Thomas Memorial Library. But the $13.5 million project has drawn significant pushback from naysayers who have criticized its location, size, subsidized funding through MaineHousing and its request for tax relief from the city.

Some opponents of Szanton’s proposal believed it violated the city’s 2019 comprehensive plan, which called for a housing diversity study.

According to the RFP, “the study should assess current housing costs, needs, impacts on services and other relevant elements in the city and recommend actions to create more affordable and accessible housing opportunities.” .

The consultant will develop a list of options for land use regulations that would align the city’s development requirements with affordable housing goals. The report should show housing as it exists in the city, the types of housing needed, and current barriers to housing development, including zoning, land availability, and environmental conditions.

“Options should be broad and potentially include methods of creating affordable housing that are not currently used in the city,” the RFP states. “Options must align with available affordable housing funding programs, reflect the limited amount of land available for development, and the ready availability of infrastructure.”

The consultant will also need to develop a list of other options for producing affordable housing, including the use of municipal land, land purchase by the city, and transfer payments to other communities that create affordable housing.

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“We want to see a spectrum of solutions,” said Councilor Penny Jordan, chair of the council’s ordinance committee. “I think everyone agrees that we need housing diversity in our community. We know there are housing issues in our state and across the country. Some people didn’t see (the Szanton proposal) as the right solution.

The study will be produced and presented to the board in stages, with a final report expected on August 30. The study will be highlighted on the city’s website and a citizens’ committee will be appointed to help review the final report and recommend next steps.

“Everything will be very public and transparent,” O’Meara said.


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