AUGUSTA — Some city officials are raising alarms about a new state law that seeks to provide more affordable housing by saying it could have unintended consequences while not directly addressing the shortage. 

The comments came as members of the Augusta Planning Board held a workshop session Tuesday to discuss how the city should incorporate changes required by L.D. 2003, sweeping legislation enacted by the state Legislature last year meant to help ease a statewide housing shortage. Board members discussed changes to local land use zoning regulations regarding accessory dwelling units, which are self-contained residences added on the same property.

Board members criticized the law changes as robbing the city of home-rule by overriding land-use regulations.

“To me this is an emotional bill, with good intentions, but not well thought-out,” said Bob Corey, vice chairman of the Planning Board.

Board members Alison Nichols and Peter Pare said there appears to be nothing in the part of the bill about accessory dwelling units that seeks to make sure they would be made into affordable housing.

“So what are we going to do, have people come in and vacation in these accessory dwelling units?” Nichols said.


The new law will require municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units on lots anywhere their zoning allows single-family residences to be built. A property owner with a single-family residence on a lot could build at least one accessory dwelling unit on that same lot, even if local zoning wouldn’t normally allow that. And municipal regulations on parking and the density of structures on those properties do not apply to them. However, setback requirements that govern how far back a structure needs to be from the road would still need to be followed.

Pare said he’s heard from many constituents, a lot of them in the housing rental business, interested in using the new law to add rental units to their properties. But he said they are interested in maximizing their rental income, not offering more affordable housing.

Board member Steve Dumont anticipates people will build accessory dwelling units on their properties, then sell that property and do the same at another property.

“It’s going to be a mess, a free-for-all,” he said.

Those concerns were echoed in some testimony to the Legislature in opposition to the bill before it was passed. For instance, the nonprofit Maine Policy Institute submitted testimony saying it did not support “the mandatory nature of these provisions and propose to amend them to become voluntary, with increased incentives for municipalities which follow through.”

Augusta board members expressed frustration at a lack of clarity in the law on whether municipalities can require accessory dwelling units to be restricted to properties which are occupied by the owner.


Matt Nazar, development director for the city, said in a memo his interpretation of the law is it does not allow municipalities to require one of the units on a lot with an accessory dwelling unit be occupied by the owner, because that would be more restrictive than the state law. However, Corey said he was told by state officials involved in writing the law that municipalities are allowed to require such properties to be owner-occupied.

City Planner Betsy Poulin said the changes could help address Augusta’s stated goal of adding more housing units in the city. She said the city can go through the new law and figure out how to incorporate it into local ordinances. For example, the city could loosen its existing parking requirements of two spaces per dwelling unit, Poulin said, or take broader actions to encourage the development of more affordable housing.

Corey said the board needs to hold workshops and a public hearing on the changes required by the law in order to make a recommendation to city councilors in time for a Jan. 1 deadline set by the state.

Poulin said other aspects of the new law beyond the accessory dwelling units issue — including building density requirements and affordable housing initiatives — would be discussed in later Planning Board workshops as soon as July.

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