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Proposed affordable housing project crumbles, another breaks ground

On the same day, a developer pulled a project slated for Cape Elizabeth and announced it would build in Old Orchard Beach.

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — A proposed affordable housing project in Cape Elizabeth was officially pulled by the site developer Tuesday morning, on the same day the same developer announced another project would be built in Old Orchard Beach.

The 46-unit project in Cape Elizabeth would have provided more than 25 affordable housing units right next to Town Hall.

The Dunham Court project was brought to the town council by the Szanton Company. President and CEO Nathan Szanton held a press conference in front of the lot slated for construction to announce he was cancelling the Cape Elizabeth project.

“Maine desperately needs more housing units to be built right now,” he said. "And we just decided at this point [Cape Elizabeth] needs time to figure this out on its own, and we don’t want to force ourselves on anybody.”

The company first came to town officials in 2019 with high hopes of moving the project forward after receiving expressed support from local leaders. Town Council Chairman Jamie Garvin and four other councilors voted to approve zoning amendments to allow construction to begin.

Cape Elizabeth voters collected more than 1,110 signatures at the polls this month to force a referendum to block the Dunham Court proposal. Garvin said he didn't know when that referendum would happen.

Credit: NCM

A meeting in town next week will set that date and the two likely options would be to set a special election or wait until the next scheduled day of voting, which is July 2022, Garvin added.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people that need access to affordable and attainable housing," he said. “If there’s an expectation that something’s going to come along and be materially different than what was proposed here, I think that’s not the reality of the situation.”

The group Save Our Center supports the referendum vote and has publically stated it is for affordable housing units to be built in town, just not at the original location near Town Hall.

"There’s no longer a project on the table, but if the ordinance package stands, there could be five of them headed our way," the group wrote on its website. "We urge you attend the public hearing and let the council know that after 10 months, it is time for them to pause and allow their constituents to speak.  

While the morning started one way for Szanton, his afternoon press conference in Old Orchard Beach had a different mood entirely. The developer broke ground on the Milliken Heights project Tuesday. 

The development will have 55-single room units, 42 of which will be for households earning 60% or below the Portland area median income. The remaining units will be rented at market value. 

Credit: NCM

The community will be exclusively for Mainers who are at least 55 years old. MaineHousing is helping finance the project with three long-term loans that total more than $8 million.

“Maine is a place where everybody, it seems, wants to be these days," MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan said. 

The differences in the fate of these two projects are examples of the biggest challenge facing Maine's ongoing housing crisis. While funding these developments is expensive, navigating zoning and land-use restrictions have proven to be the biggest hurdle.

Brennan said many of those towns set up these rules decades ago, but now he, local lawmakers, and the state's Zoning Commission will work to change those laws that might not make sense right now, Brennan added.

The Milliken Heights project is expected to be completed in February 2023.