Westbrook has extended a moratorium preventing the construction of homes on so-called “paper streets” in order to give the city enough time to consider proposed changes to city ordinances.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the original six-month moratorium, which was set to end Feb. 11, has now been extended another 90 days. Bryant added he believed it would not take the full 90 days to make the proposed changes.

For the past several months, the Westbrook Paper Streets Committee, which is comprised of residents and developers, has been looking at the way Westbrook handles the question of paper streets. A paper street is a street that has been previously approved, but exists only on paper.

On Feb. 6, the committee will present its recommendations to the City Council. Proposed ordinance changes include encouraging any developer wishing to build on a paper street to meet with the residents of the surrounding neighborhood before starting construction. Additionally, the proposed changes, if approved, would require the city to send a letter, at the developer’s expense, to all residences within 500 feet of the proposed development notifying them of the application.

Bryant said the city attorney is drafting a revised ordinance to reflect the committee’s recommendations. Bryant said the council would refer the proposed changes to the Planning Board, which reviews any changes to the land use ordinance.

The question of how to handle paper streets was raised earlier this summer after residents became upset when a developer began clearing land on paper streets behind houses on Chestnut Street to build roads leading to a planned housing development.

City officials said the paper street near Chestnut Street exists as part of an approved subdivision that had been laid out and approved, but was never actually built.

In the case of the Chestnut Street neighborhood, the paper streets in question come from a subdivision that was recorded in 1807, a time when Thomas Jefferson was president and Maine was still part of Massachusetts. Subdivisions and paper streets can stay undeveloped for a number of years, and since they were already approved, they are exempt from having to comply with current zoning regulations.

The root of the problem began with a 2004 change to the city’s land use ordinance. At that time, the council voted to allow lots in a previously approved subdivision that were at least 5,000 square feet to be approved as buildable house lots. In February 2005, the council made another change, voting to change the ordinance allowing houses to be built on paper streets.

Prior to those changes, owners of lots on paper streets had the right to develop the streets, but there was no incentive to do so because many of the house lots did not meet the minimum size necessary to obtain a building permit

In August, responding to neighbors’ concerns, the City Council voted to approve a six-month moratorium preventing the construction of homes on undersized lots located on the paper streets.

Bryant said the public would have at least two more chances to let their feelings about the proposed changes be known. He said both the Planning Board and the City Council would be holding public hearings on the matter. No date has been set for either of those meetings.

The City Council will be receiving the Westbrook Paper Streets Committee’s recommendations at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. in room 114 of Westbrook High School.


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