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New zoning law aims to boost housing across Maine

LD 2003 will help expand available housing at a time when the shortage in Maine is at a crisis level.

AUBURN, Maine — State housing experts estimate Maine is currently down 19,000 affordable housing units, and only about 250 units are built annually.

LD 2003, which received bipartisan support from lawmakers, expands the ability to build multi-unit properties in certain residential zones and could spur new economic development. 

The law loosens zoning restrictions statewide to allow up to two units on plots zoned for single-family use and accessory dwelling units, such as mother-in-law apartments, in residential areas. 

Property owners would also have a right to build additional units. 

"You would have a right actually to go up to 4 units on a parcel that's yet to be developed. Of course, some conditions must be met, appropriate water and sewer," Jason Levesque, the mayor of Auburn, said.

Levesque is a big supporter of the proposal. He said it builds on the city's ongoing efforts to ease zoning restrictions. More than a dozen ADUs are already in the planning stages or under construction. That could boost low housing inventory.

"This allows a family member, your mother, or mother-in-law to move in and have their independence, but they are then selling their home or leaving their apartment," Levesque said.

Levesque said close to 400 new market-rate apartments are in the works or are being constructed. Thanks to a recent zoning change that allows high-density apartments on vacant land, site work is underway on this 60 multi-unit project at 555 Court St. on seven acres. 

"We encourage growth, and we are excited about LD 2003," Carl Sheline, the mayor of Lewiston, said. 

Sheline added the city has also taken steps to reform zoning laws and cut red tape to make it easier to build. 

"In two districts downtown, we have no minimum lot size requirements," Sheline said.

Raychel Ward, who is married to Matthew and has two daughters, Ashliee Warner, and Winter, lives in a three-bedroom unit in what she considers a high crime neighborhood. 

Their $1,200 monthly rent is set to increase by more than $400 next month. Her work hours are limited because of caring for her girls. Both have special needs. She said more needs to be done to stabilize rent prices.

"If we don't do something about the affordability of rent, it is not going to help at all," Ward said.

Meanwhile, work is expected to begin this winter in downtown Lewiston on an expansive affordable housing project. A $30 million Choice Neighborhood Implementation federal housing grant will replace 92 existing affordable units and add more than 90 market-rate working force housing units to the area. Construction is expected to take five years.

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