AUGUSTA — Rules that require off-street parking are the biggest obstacle to the development of new affordable housing and conversion of existing buildings to housing, according to a city official who has analyzed Augusta’s zoning rules.

The analysis was done to see if the rules might be contributing to an acute lack of affordable housing in Augusta.

Also of potential concern for people looking to add affordable housing options in Augusta are zoning restrictions that limit where mobile home parks can go, Matt Nazar, city development director and acting assistant city manager, told city councilors recently.

The limitation of mobile home parks to rural areas of Augusta that do not have public water or sewer makes them too expensive to develop, and limits on where individual mobile homes can be put even on their own lot in urban areas, according to Nazar.

City leaders asked Nazar to look at the city’s zoning rules to see if any of them could be an impediment to the development of much-needed affordable housing to address a shortage of housing that has seen housing costs skyrocket due to demand exceeding supply.

Nazar told councilors last Thursday the city’s requirement that developers of housing throughout the city provide off-street parking for each unit — a requirement that can only be waived in one of the city’s many different zoning districts — has hindered development of some types of housing, including redevelopment of large, single-family houses into multifamily dwellings, making it harder to increase the density of housing in the city.

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“On-site parking requirements are probably the single-biggest impediment to affordable housing construction and conversion of existing buildings to more residential units,” Nazar wrote in his report. “Augusta’s land use ordinance does not allow on-street parking to count toward the parking needs of new residential units in new buildings or added to existing buildings.

“Because so many lots in Augusta are so small, making off-street parking often impossible, the addition of units to existing buildings and the construction of new buildings is limited.”

Only in the city’s small “WP” zoning district is the Planning Board able to waive all on-site parking requirements. In other districts, the board can reduce on-site parking by 50% from the standard, which generally requires two parking spaces per residential unit.

Nazar also said city rules that allow new mobile home parks only in rural areas of the city, which generally do not have access to public water and sewer, make development of that type of affordable housing too costly for developers.

And while city rules allow new mobile homes to be put on individual lots in several zones, which together make up about 40 % of the city’s geographic area, they are generally not allowed in zones that cover most of the city’s more-urban area, unless they are replacing an existing mobile home.

City councilors agreed with Mayor Mark O’Brien’s suggestion a committee be formed to study those and other potential obstacles to affordable housing development, which are identified in Nazar’s report, and recommend changes for the Planning Board or council to consider.

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“I think we all want to make some progress, big or small,” O’Brien said.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said it did not seem addressing the issues raised by Nazar would have a large impact on the city’s shortage of affordable housing. She asked how the city might incentivize owners of existing large buildings, including the long-vacant, former Sears store at the Turnpike Mall, to convert large buildings into housing.

Nazar said that would likely involve the city’s approaching individual building owners.

Other councilors said large retail buildings, such as the former Sears site, could be difficult to convert into housing, with such large, windowless spaces in the middle of the structure.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins said it will take many different efforts to improve the housing situation in Augusta.

“We’re going to do it big, with a lot of little deals. We have to chip away at it. It’s not going to be one thing, but the cumulative effect of little things that will start to tilt this balance,” Judkins said, adding modern mobile homes, which he said should be called manufactured housing, are built much better now than in the past. “I think we have to open up our mind a little bit for manufactured home communities.”

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City Manager Susan Robertson said the issue came up over the past several months, as officials have discussed affordable housing, workforce housing, the immediate housing needs of people that are “unhoused” and how government zoning regulations impact the kinds of housing that can be placed in a community.

Nazar said housing projects planned by some developers could increase Augusta’s available housing stock by about 700 units, and potentially reduce prices for housing.

Potential projects include:

• A proposal to put 250 units of market-rate housing on Civic Center Drive.

• A proposal, which has yet to go to the city for approval, to put 250 units on Calumet Club property.

• About 100 units the Augusta Housing Authority is proposing to build at sites adjacent to the Hodgkins School Apartments, inside the city’s current police station on Union Street, after the city builds a new police station, and on Riverside Drive.

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