Speaker Fecteau offers last minute amendment to affordable housing bill

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On April 7, the Maine Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee voted 8 to 4 to adopt a new sponsor’s amendment to LD 2003, a housing bill brought forward by Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford). 

The committee had previously adopted a different amendment to the bill, which was also sponsored by Fecteau, during a work session held on March 16.

Fecteau presented the amendment to the committee and clarified changes that had been made, some at the request of municipal planners within the state.

Fecteau’s newest amendment clarifies density requirements that are part of the bill’s affordable housing density provision only apply to communities that have density requirements in place, or are served by public water and a municipal sewer system. Affordable housing developments must also comply with shoreland zoning requirements.

This requirement is referenced numerous times throughout the bill and, according to Fecteau, was asked for by planning officials. The amendment also stipulates that owners of affordable housing developments must provide written verification to municipalities that their structure is in compliance with these requirements.

The amendment also clarifies that affordable housing developments are only permitted where multi-family housing is already allowed. It also adds the word “base” to municipal densities in order to clarify that density bonuses will apply to base density.

The provision relating to density requirements within the law requires municipalities to allow affordable housing developments, in areas where multi-family dwellings are allowed, to have a dwelling unit density of at least 2.5 times the base density otherwise allowed. 

The amendment also extends the implementation date for the affordable density provision, which would now apply to affordable housing developments approved on or after July 1, 2023. Fecteau said this change was made following feedback about town meetings required to make changes to implement the bill, should it become law. Extending the date will allow time for this to occur.

The amendment also includes new language stipulating that nothing within it “is intended to interfere with, abrogate or annul the validity or enforceability under existing law of any valid and enforceable easement, covenant, deed restriction or other agreement or instrument between private parties, which imposes greater restrictions.” Similar to the language relating to access to public water and municipal sewer, this language appears multiple times within the amendment.

The amendment also makes changes to the number of dwelling units allowed to be built under the law. The law would allow up to four dwelling units to be built on a single lot. The amendment stipulates that, for areas where housing density is limited to no more than one or two dwelling units per lot, municipalities must allow structures with up to two dwelling units per lot to be built, provided the lot does not have an existing structure. 

Municipalities located within designated growth areas must allow up to two dwelling units per lot, provided the lot does not have an existing structure. Municipalities must also allow structures on a lot with an existing dwelling unit to build an additional two dwelling units if they are within an existing dwelling or are an accessory dwelling. 

The amendment also stipulates that municipal zoning ordinances must consider a lot single-family even if more than one dwelling is constructed as a result of the law. Municipalities may also establish a prohibition or allowance for lots with existing dwelling units that are torn down after the law goes into effect on July 1, 2023, if passed, resulting in an empty lot.

The amendment also adds language stipulating that municipal ordinances cannot establish dimensional size or setback requirements for dwelling units allowed by the law that are greater than the same requirements for single-family homes. 

The amendment’s language about zoning was added because the Maine Municipal Association was concerned the law would require municipalities without zoning to draft ordinances in order to comply with the law. 

The amendment also gives the Department of Economic and Community Development rulemaking authority to administer and enforce the bill’s provisions related to the construction of accessory dwelling units. 

Asked by Sen. Mattie Daughtry (D-Cumberland) to address accusation that the bill is a “one-size-fits-all” solution to Maine’s housing problem, Fecteau said the bill outlines what is allowed and its applicability in communities depends on whether the bill’s allowed use fits with a community’s allowed uses.

The bill will go through a language review before being voted on by the legislature. The Maine Municipal Association could not be reached for comment before publication.

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