Local Politics

Cape Elizabeth Struggles with Affordable Housing Project

In Cape Elizabeth, a large condominium development called ‘Dunham Court’, slated for the space next door to the town hall, has inspired controversy and brought the issue of affordable housing in the town to the upcoming council election, where candidates are split on the project.

A render of the planned Dunham Court development. Courtesy The Szanton Company.

For the project to begin, several modifications must be made to Cape Elizabeth’s zoning laws to accommodate the development. The Szanton Company, the project’s developer, defends these revisions to Cape’s zoning on their site FAQ, stating “This project would provide 39 affordable apartments, something that hasn’t been done in Cape since the 1970s. The zoning amendment being considered by Town policy-makers would be narrowly tailored, so only projects proposing at least 36 dwelling units affordable to households with lower incomes, would be eligible for them,”

Cape Elizabeth is South Portland’s closest neighbor to the south and many Cape Elizabeth graduates attend SMCC. The town is a low-density sprawl of farmland and forests, with Ocean House Road, where Dunham Court is planned, being the main hub of activity. 

The topic of affordable housing is not new to Cape. Realtor.com estimates ‘median listing home price’ in Cape Elizabeth at $645,000, and Zillow’s ‘home value index’ for Cape Elizabeth is $728,846

The Forecaster published quotes from the candidates for the Cape Elizabeth council election in an article posted on September 30th. The opposing candidates, Tim Reiniger and Susan Gillis, dislike the high density solution to affordable housing, and Reiniger has also raised concerns about a special tax zone tailored for the project. The supporting candidates, Jeremy Gabrielson and Victoria Volent, argue that the zoning changes aren’t excessive and reiterated the serious need for more affordable housing in Cape Elizabeth, which is dominated by single-family homes.

A render of the planned Dunham Court development. Courtesy The Szanton Company.

According to Cape Elizabeth’s town website, the vote deciding whether to approve the zoning amendments needed for the Dunham Court project will occur at the next council meeting on October 13th. As the development requires these amendments to proceed, this is effectively a vote on the survival of the project itself. 

Dunham Court is not the only housing project on the table in Cape Elizabeth. There’s also a planned 18-unit condominium development in the woods directly across from Fort Williams, although the town’s website states the application will not be addressed until the Planning Board meeting on December 21, 2021.

As this is an ongoing issue and many SMCC students are from Cape Elizabeth, please reach out to lilianarpalmer@smccme if you are familiar with the town and are interested in being interviewed or writing an op-ed on the topic. 

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