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Dunham Court

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council will vote Oct. 13 on ordinance changes that would pave the way for The Szanton Co.’s proposed Dunham Court, a four-story affordable-housing project, pictured in the rendering above, in the town center. Contributed/The Szanton Co.

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council is deliberating four requested zoning amendments and a tax increment financing plan from the developers of proposed multi-income rental apartments in the town center. Since January, these duly elected councilors have listened, researched and continued working their way through what has been a deliberative and public process. Decisions won’t be made until Oct. 13.

The zoning changes involve height restrictions, land requirements per dwelling and eliminating commercial space on the ground floor. We support these requested changes, and as members of Cape Citizens for Affordable Housing, we’ve been public about our support. We’re also the ones who donated the land for the Village Green, and who currently own the lots on which the apartments, known as Dunham Court, would be built. In fact, we’re building a new dental office next door.

A group in Cape Elizabeth that opposes these zoning changes has decided that if the council votes to approve them, they will push for a referendum to overturn the council’s vote. It’s important to note that we don’t know who’s running this effort because they don’t sign their names to anything. No names on their correspondence, no names on their website.

This group, Save Our Center, announced their referendum effort because it seems like the council is preparing to move forward with its approval. The group  has said that such a decision is too big for a handful of town councilors to make.

Setting aside whether one supports much-needed affordable housing in Cape, let’s look at what holding a referendum would say about the Town Council, which is: “We don’t like the council’s decision, so we can’t trust them to make it.” If the council indicated its opposition, would Save Our Center still say it’s too big for the council to handle? Of course not.

Save Our Center was begun months ago to oppose Dunham Court. A website was created, a petition sent to the Town Council, a GoFundMe page was launched, letters – many containing wrong and misleading information – were sent to the council and the local Cape Courier.

In the wake of this unprecedented onslaught against bringing affordable housing to Cape Elizabeth, the developer – an established firm, The Szanton Co. – finally asked supporters to speak up. We have, and in large numbers. The act of speaking up, however, now has opponents of Dunham Court tsk-tsking and spreading the word that we are engaging in a campaign of shame, guilt and division.

Aside from the fact that the opening line on their own website disputes this, we, the Cape Citizens for Affordable Housing, invite anyone to review our website, the ads we placed in the Courier and the brochures we’ve handed out. Only positivity, facts and testimonials from people who are supportive of Dunham Court. The Szanton Co. has had one-on-one and group meetings with Cape residents.

They’ve offered tours of their current properties. They’ve answered all questions, been transparent in sharing information. They’ve added more multi-bedroom units. In short, they’ve been open and responsive. There’s no shaming, guilting or dividing going on by either the developer or Cape Citizens for Affordable Housing.

What’s even more discouraging is that opponents of Dunham Court use the threat of a referendum as a weapon against both the project and the council. Now, we’re hearing rumors that people are willing to spend serious money on a referendum unless commercial space is part of the project. Does no one see the irony of raising and spending money to keep affordable apartments out of Cape Elizabeth?

Our mission has always been to provide facts, to correct misinformation and to open the door to affordable housing in Cape Elizabeth for the first time in 50 years. Many in Cape are proud that someone thought we’d be a welcoming community.

We hope the Cape Elizabeth councilors will approve the zoning amendments and the TIF. We also urge Cape residents to think twice before signing a referendum petition being pushed by people who think the public deliberations of our Town Council can’t be trusted, but who themselves hide behind a whispering campaign and anonymity.

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