AUGUSTA — City councilors unanimously, if in one case begrudgingly, approved a series of zoning changes to comply with state mandates intended to help address the ongoing housing shortage crisis.

The changes will allow accessory dwelling units, which include small homes or attachments to homes, to be built on all existing lots where one- or two-family homes are now allowed.

The changes will also create an affordable housing district throughout much of the city and allow apartment buildings to be built in some zones where they are not allowed now.

City officials had to alter Augusta’s land-use zoning rules to comply with the requirements of LD 2003, state legislation enacted last year that overrode some municipalities’ ordinances. Legislators said the changes are meant to make it easier to build affordable housing and apartments in Maine municipalities to help ease an ongoing housing shortage.

Councilors approved the changes Thursday in a 7-0 vote, though Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said her affirmative vote came only because Augusta officials were required to adopt the changes by law.

“I don’t really like this ordinance, I’m not so sure it’s good policy. I don’t think it’s going to accomplish the goals (state officials) want to accomplish,” Conti said. “This is not something we thought up, this is something we were told we had to do. I’m legally obligated to uphold the laws of the state of Maine, so that’s what I’m going to do.”


Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind, the only other councilor to comment on the changes, thanked city staff and the Planning Board for boiling down what he said was a lengthy and complicated piece of legislation into something councilors could adopt.

The Planning Board met several times to discuss the changes needed to bring local land-use rules into compliance. Board members voted unanimously to recommend they be adopted by the City Council.

Augusta and other Maine cities have until January 2024 to meet the requirements of LD 2003.

Conti said she thinks Augusta may be the only city that has met that deadline “without whining and asking for an extension.”

One change would allow multifamily apartment buildings as a conditional use in nearly all zoning districts in the city, including several districts where they are not allowed now. As conditional uses, new apartment buildings would be reviewed by the Planning Board, which would consider specific proposals and how they could impact neighborhoods before deciding whether to approve them.

The changes largely use state-provided definitions, including for accessory dwelling units that, according to Matt Nazar, city development director, are individualized dwelling units, meaning each contains living, cooking and bathroom facilities, and can be attached or separate from a home on the same land parcel.

They would not be subject to any of the lot size, density or parking requirements that other dwelling units must meet, but would have to meet setback requirements from neighboring structures.

Accessory dwelling units, which were not contemplated in the city’s existing zoning, will be a new use allowed in all districts where one- and two-family dwellings are now allowed. Like homes, they would be a permitted use in all districts, except the industrial district, where they would be a conditional use, and the government services district, where they would not be allowed.

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