Local Politics

Cape Elizabeth Votes ‘Yes’ to Zoning Changes for Affordable Housing Project

Portland Head Light. Photo by Rapidfire on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

On October 13th, Cape Elizabeth’s town council approved a set of zoning amendments designed to allow a new condominium development with affordable apartments in the town center. This vote has finally settled one of the major debates around the project with a tally of 5 councilors for and 2 against.

Cape Elizabeth’s town website quotes Town Councilor Penny Jordan as stating during the vote “I truly feel it’s the right thing; I believe Cape Elizabeth is part of a big community. What is it that we can do to help Portland, South Portland and neighboring communities address some of the [housing and employment] challenges facing them at this time?  It’s time for Cape Elizabeth not to sit on the sidelines any longer — and that’s why I vote in favor of these amendments,”

Despite the amendment’s success, the topic remains controversial. According to Cape’s Town website, the 13 citizens who stepped forward with public comments were ‘nearly equally divided’ between supporting and opposing the amendments, and half of the candidates for Cape’s upcoming city council election were opposed to these amendments. The results of that election may eventually play a role in Cape’s future interpretation of the ‘Comprehensive Plan’, a sweeping document created in 2019 that sets forth an agreed vision of Cape’s ongoing city planning goals. 

The Comprehensive Plan has been the background to this debate from the very start and both supporters and opponents of the development have often presented their arguments in terms of whether Dunham Court would or wouldn’t violate the spirit of the document, which advocates for both mixed use zoning (buildings with both commercial and residential uses, in this case) and for preserving the “small-town heritage” of the town. Dunham Court was originally required to  be a mixed-use development due to its placement in the town center, and the project’s website noted before the vote that the first floor would be required to be strictly commercial use unless the amendment passed. Now that the vote is settled, that no longer applies. 

Dunham Court’s promise of affordable apartments is especially relevant to the Comprehensive Plan as the latter had brought the issue of affordable housing up almost immediately in it’s opening summary: “Significant issues identified by the plan that may require shifts in town policy include affordable housing, tourism, school and municipal infrastructure, and efforts to moderate increases in the tax rate,” 

According to Dunham Court’s website, the affordable rent rates will be set at ~$1,080, ~$1,300, and ~$1,495 a month for one, two, and three bedroom apartments respectively. Their market rates will be ~$1,495 and ~$1,695 for one and two bedroom apartments. The bulk of the apartments will be single bedroom.

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. In addition, if you have any photographs of downtown Cape Elizabeth, consider sending them for use in an article.

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