Maine lawmakers are considering a proposal to create a state board that would permit affordable housing projects in areas communities have identified for growth but that still face barriers to approval.

“We have comprehensive planning processes that citizens engage in and that often include plans for building housing, but sometimes those plans are not then matched by changes in zoning and other ordinances to enable it to happen,” said Rep. Traci Gere, D-Kennebunkport. “And sometimes a small group of people come out in opposition to it.”

Gere, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Housing, is the sponsor of L.D. 1672.

“This is one approach we’re considering to basically say to a developer who wants to propose affordable housing for a community that when the conditions in the bill are met, the board would be able to review that proposal with input from the municipal planning board,” she said.

Members of the committee discussed the bill during a work session Friday and heard suggestions from a legislative analyst. Previously, the Maine Municipal Association had voiced concern about the loss of local control. Gere stressed that it’s still early in the process and she expects the bill to come back for another work session before it’s voted out.

As written, the proposal would allow a new state board to consider projects with at least 50% affordable or workforce units that are located within a “designated growth area,” with water and sewer service. Designated growth areas would be identified in a community’s comprehensive plan, Gere said.


She said the goal is to ensure a community’s comprehensive plan is aligned with zoning and ordinances, and that projects that meet the goals of the plan aren’t rejected on other grounds.

“In so many cases we’ve seen, there might be a small group of people or some NIMBYism occurring where people say, ‘We don’t want to allow that, we’re going to try to scramble and make changes,’ ” Gere said.

Danielle Fox, director of the Legislature’s Office of Policy and Legal Analysis and an analyst for the housing committee, gave the committee a number of suggestions for revising the bill Friday.

She said the committee should look more closely at how the authority of the new state board would interact with local authorities, as well as the structure of the board and the review standards in the bill.

The Maine Association of Realtors and the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition supported the measure.

“The bill would add more housing supply options statewide by expediting the permit process with a focus on affordable housing,” the Realtors association said in written testimony.



The Maine Municipal Association, a nonprofit representing municipalities throughout Maine, said that while the group supports the intent behind the bill, it is at best, “a seismic and unprecedented power grab by the state.”

“Even with the benefit of all doubt, this bill would effectively supplant local legislative authority, and the ability for Maine’s municipalities to determine, for themselves, the terms under which their communities will grow and develop, with state-mandated, universally applicable standards wholly devoid of local input,” the municipal association said in its testimony.

Gere said the intent is not to take local control away from municipalities.

“Part of the requirement is that they would consider the input of the municipal planning board in their deliberations,” she said.

At a Jan. 5 public hearing, Nat Jordan, a resident of Cape Elizabeth, brought up the failure two years ago of an affordable housing project whose developers scrapped the project after opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on zoning amendments that would have made construction possible. He said it’s an example of where Gere’s proposal could be helpful.

“Establishing a state approval process would invite developers back to places like Cape Elizabeth by removing the daunting process of gaining approval from town councilors and planning board members hostile to affordable housing,” Jordan said.

The 24-year-old said he is currently in law school and hopes to eventually settle back in southern Maine.

“As a prospective boomerang young person scared of paying an arm and a leg for housing, I’m encouraged to see the Legislature seriously addressing the problem of NIMBYism,” Jordan said.

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