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Speaker Fecteau’s amended housing bill clears hurdle in committee

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The Maine Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Housing (LBHS) on March 16 voted to advance an amended version of Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau’s (D-Biddeford) bill intended to increase the amount of housing in Maine. 

The committee voted 8-3 in favor of advancing LD 2003, which implements some of the recommendations of the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions.

The amendment, which was also authored by Fecteau, struck several portions of the bill, including a prohibition on municipalities adopting growth caps and a state level permit review board that could overturn decisions made by municipal planners.

The original bill prohibited municipalities from adopting ordinances that annually capped the number of building or development permits for residential dwellings. Fecteau’s amendment to LD 2003 includes a provision that stipulates permits issued by a municipality for construction of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) do not count towards that municipality’s growth rate ordinance. The speaker said this provision is “in the spirit” of the bill’s original prohibition on growth caps.

The Municipal Housing Development Permit Review Board included in LD 2003’s original language would have created a seven-member board of gubernatorial appointees with the power to review applications for housing projects denied by municipalities. 

The measure was opposed by the Maine Municipal Association on the grounds that it “sent a message” that municipal officials couldn’t be trusted. The association also opposed language in the bill requiring communities to identify priority development zones. That requirement was also removed by Fecteau’s amendment, which was adopted by the LBHS committee on Wednesday.

Another bill currently being considered by the LBHS committee contains a similar permit review board. Sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), LD 1673 would create a state-level Affordable Housing Appeals Committee with the power to review permits for affordable housing projects denied at the municipal level.

Fecteau’s amendment also stripped the emergency clause from the bill, meaning it will now no longer need to pass both chambers of the legislature by a two-thirds vote in order to be immediately enacted. Fecteau said implementing the bill as emergency legislation was unnecessary, as most provisions within it have sunrise clauses.

The amendment also eliminates proposed changes to the fair housing provisions of the Maine Human Rights Act. As originally drafted, the bill would have added definitions for the terms “character of a location,” “overcrowding of land,” and “concentration of the areas,” and prohibited municipalities from using them to restrict housing development. Fecteau said the way the provision in the original bill was constructed didn’t meet the intentions of the commission.

Other changes include the elimination of a proposed incentive program for municipalities that fulfilled requirements related to the review of how their zoning and land use ordinances impacted housing availability.

The amendment also made changes to language requiring municipalities to permit structures with up to four dwelling units on residentially zoned land. The amendment stipulated that municipalities must permit structures with up to three dwelling units if a lot does not contain an existing dwelling unit. Municipalities must permit structures with up to four dwelling units “if that lot does not contain an existing dwelling unit and the lot is located in designated growth areas within municipalities with a comprehensive plan or if the lot is served by public water and sewer in municipalities without a comprehensive plan.” 

Fecteau explained that in order for four units to be built on a lot with no existing structure, that project must be in a growth area if a community has a comprehensive plan. If a community does not have a comprehensive plan, that project must be located in an area with existing water and sewer. Fecteau said the changes to this provision of the bill address concerns about sprawl and ensure projects are located near existing infrastructure.

The amendment also specifies that a subdivided lot in any zone where housing is permitted cannot have four dwelling units on each piece of subdivided land. This provision, according to Fecteau, is intended to clarify that the bill doesn’t exempt subdivided land from existing laws.

Another change within the amendment is the creation of a Housing Opportunity Program within the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). The program would “encourage and support the development and additional housing units in Maine” and provide technical and financial assistance to communities with changes to zoning and land use policies. 

The program would establish a service provider grant program and a community housing incentive grant program. It would also provide technical assistance and perform program evaluations of recipients of grant funds.

The program would be paid for by the Housing Opportunity Fund, which is also established by the amendment. The amendment includes $1 million in fiscal year 2022-2023 for service provider grants and just over $1.5 million in the same fiscal year for the community housing incentive grant program. It also includes $450,000 in funding for personnel to staff the program. 

In total, the amendment allocates $3 million to DECD for fiscal year 2022-2023.

According to Fecteau, this provision within the amendment takes language from Gov. Janet MIlls’ supplemental budget proposal calling for technical assistance and incentive programs for affordable housing and puts it into one initiative. 

The amendment also requires DECD and the Maine State Housing Authority to establish statewide and regional housing production goals designed to increase the availability and affordability of “all types of housing in all parts of the State.” Regional goals would be based on statewide goals.

An additional provision within the amendment specifies that municipalities can regulate short-term rentals in order to meet statewide and regional goals.

The bill now moves to the full legislature for consideration.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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