NOTE: This Q&A was last updated on 05/16/2022 to provide more clarity on project location from the sponsor. It will be updated regularly as questions arise or as any further information is provided. This information comes from publicly available sources and comments by the sponsor in town forums.
Q: Is Plan B a legitimate proposal to create affordable housing in Cape Elizabeth?
A: This is a question everyone will have to answer for themselves; based on the very limited to non-existent information provided to date, it appears this proposal is not actually intended to create affordable housing, but simply is a way to obfuscate significant efforts to hinder real affordable housing solutions.
Q. What specifically is the "Plan B" proposal?
A. The petition as presented by the sponsor is to amend a single ordinance in the Cape Elizabeth Zoning Ordinance to (i) define a new term, Community Housing, as being housing on town-owned land restricted to residents with Low Income or Moderate Income, and (ii) to provide a unit density of 1 unit per 15,000 square feet of land as opposed to the current 1 unit per 66,000 square feet (or 80,000 square feet in subdivisions.) In total the site would support a maximum of 30 units.
Q. Is there a specific place where this zoning is targeted?
A: Per the sponsor, the only available site with 10 acres of developable land in the RA zone is the Gull Crest complex. The sponsor has not provided any information on where within this complex the housing would be located, but the only areas outside of the wetlands with the necessary 10 acres are currently used as 2 athletic fields, the community garden, parking for those uses, and the area where the proposed Cape Community Arena would be located.
Q: Is Plan B consistent with the existing Gull Crest Master Plan? (added 04/02/2022)
A: The current Gull Crest Master Plan is attached here. The plan enumerates the uses of the site for the existing transfer station, public works garage, capped landfill, and recreational uses. A rigorous Maine DEP permitting process was conducted for the expansion of the trail network. Housing is not one of the uses in this plan.
Q. What type of housing has been proposed?
A. The petition defines the proposal as multiplex housing, which is defined as “2 or more attached dwelling units”. This is best visualized as 2 single-family style homes attached in the middle. The maximum number of units is 30. No unit sizes (# of bedrooms) has been proposed. The sponsor has indicated the necessity for garages on each unit.
Q. Is what’s proposed really “Affordable Housing”
A: The sponsor has proposed a definition of Community Housing to include both Low Income and Moderate Income housing. The zoning ordinance described Low Income as households earning between 50% and 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) and Moderate Income as 80% to 120% of AMI. These AMI numbers are important, because federal tax credits require a low income definition of a maximum of 60% AMI; the definition of Community Housing as proposed would appear to limit the ability of a developer to obtain federal tax credits, as well as state subsidies which utilize those same programs.
Q. Who would pay for the development?
A. As of yet there has been no information from the sponsor as to the financing plan; given there is no sewer or sufficient utilities to the site currently, those would almost certainly need to be run and likely at taxpayer expense. Likewise the roadway infrastructure and everything from sidewalks to streetlight to landscaping would need to be in place. There has also been no proposal on how such a project could be or would be financed. Given the income limitations, it’s possible the entirety of the project above what is able to be financed through traditional means could be borne by Cape Elizabeth taxpayers.
Q. How (or will) this affect my real estate taxes?
A. That will depend upon ultimately if a plan is feasible and how costs are allocated. If the town has to provide the infrastructure, the cost of that development would likely be bonded and debt service paid for by a tax increase. For a cost comparison, Maxwell Woods in 2017 indicated it had an infrastructure cost of about $1.3 million; that site is already serviced by public sewer and did not have roads or athletic fields to be relocated. Six years later, and all of those other costs added in, it's certainly possible these costs could exceed $2 million. If the town had to provide further subsidies because the development did not meet standards for other sources of funding, such a bond could easily reach $8-10 million. A $10 million bond over 30 years would equate to an approximate 3% tax increase for just 30 units. This does not take into account any additional costs to the town for schools, public safety, or operational costs.
Q. Did the sponsor seek these ordinance amendments through the town planning process prior to circulating this petition?
A. It appears not.
Q. Doesn't the town charter specifically allow for petitions to enact ordinance?
A. Yes, it does. There is no requirement that a sponsor seek ordinance changes through the normal town processes, however such processes involve multiple steps of review and public hearings to allow the public to understand implications.
Q. Is it actually possible for "Plan B" to be built?
A. Without the sponsor actually providing details of the proposal, it's impossible to say for certain. However the physical limitations, the necessity of infrastructure development and field relocation, and the general lack of financing options seems to make Plan B an extremely unrealistic option.
Q. I've heard the town is conducting a housing study. Why is this petition being rushed when it will be or could be included in that study?
A. The sponsor has been asked this question. If a response is received, this will be updated.
Q. Will that housing study suggest further ordinance modifications?
A. It's impossible to know what a report 6 months out will say, but all of the proposals have a section where they note they will review ordinances and provide options. My personal opinion is that several ordinance amendments are likely to be recommended.
Q. If I support affordable housing, shouldn't I support any petition that claims to help create it?
A. My personal view on supporting a petition is it should create, or allow the creation, of something physically and financing feasible and responsible. To the extent these conditions are not met, energy is better focused on what is actually possible.
Q. Are there other options to support affordable housing
A. Yes! First and foremost, there will be a ballot question in November as to whether to affirm or set aside ordinance amendments in the town center district that specifically support affordable housing. Affirming these ordinances will support creation of fiscally responsible affordable housing in Cape Elizabeth.
Beyond thinking forward to November, the town is commissioning a Housing Diversity study to explore these issues. And with that a town ad hoc housing committee to study recommendations. Be involved in that process - listen, learn, keep an open mind.
Q. I'm told Plan B is family friendly in a way other proposals are not. Can you explain why?
A. The sponsor has stated that affordable housing should be built for "kids and families", yet also led a petition drive that against a plan that have created 46 homes that would have been available for "kids and families". The sponsor has identified a need for garages to house bicycles and sleds as a key differential, however the text of Plan B does not require garages. Individuals will have to determine whether 30 homes with an unknown amount of storage is superior to 46 homes with an unknown amount of storage.
The sponsor has also indicated the location of Plan B is superior to other locations, however it is not walkable to the school campus, community services, or the library. It also appears to involve the relocation of athletic facilities currently used for a large number of youth sports. It appears to preclude the construction of a year-round arena primarily for the benefit of the children of Cape Elizabeth. Again individuals will need to decide if Plan B is truly designed to benefit "kids and families."
Q. Where can I find more information about housing diversity in Cape Elizabeth?
A. I hope on this website - my goal is to create a single place for community and municipal information on this subject. Over the coming weeks and months there will be a lot to digest:
The town is going to retain an outside consultant to research and prepare a Housing Diversity Study, something specifically called out in the 2019 Comprehensive Plan. The report is scheduled to be complete by the end of August, with public process during and after.
The town will be forming an Ad Hoc Housing Committee to discuss the report, its conclusions and recommendations, and prepare possible options for the Town Council to consider.
In the November election there will be a ballot question on whether to affirm or reject the Town Center Affordable Housing Ordinance Amendments. This is NOT a vote on a previously proposed project. And it does NOT disallow anything that is currently allowed in the Town Center Plan. Stay tuned for further Q&A about that topic.
Reach out to a trusted friend or neighbor. I am also available to chat one on one at any time, without judgment or reservation, if only to talk through the facts.
Q. I feel misled about the premise of the "Plan B" petition and signed it. I'd like to "un-sign". What can I do?
A: You can contact the sponsor directly and ask to be removed. If that is unsuccessful, you can also contact Debra Lane, Town Clerk, at email@example.com and ask to have your signature invalidated.
Q. Has the sponsor provided any information on the location of the proposed development? (UPDATED 05/16/2022)
A. Based on public statements, the sponsor has indicated that the area for development would be between the transfer station, the abandoned landfill, and the sewage treatment plant. A visual depiction is included in the Site Plans page.