In Falmouth, housing could fill in space between businesses on routes 1 and 100. South Portland sees potential for multi-family units near the mall.

The first apartment complex in decades is coming to Cape Elizabeth, and mixed-used zoning is helping Scarborough add variety to its stock of single-family homes.

Officials from Portland and five surrounding towns met Wednesday evening for a round-table discussion about the challenges they’re facing and strategies they’re using to address high demand for housing in the region.

The forum was hosted by the Portland City Council’s newly formed Housing Committee and held in the Abromson Center on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a report last month that showed a need for 6,000 new housing units in the next three years in the area encompassing York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties.

Two-thirds of the units should be for sale and the other 2,000 should be rentals, concentrated around Portland, according to the report, which was presented at the meeting.

As of last fall, there were 850 sales and 450 rental units under construction, the report said.

“We’re certainly feeling the heat of being a very attractive and popular region,” said Jill Duson, chair of the Housing Committee.

Portland has recently seen an increase rental developments, and representatives from the suburbs said they’ve been trying to address the need by increasing allowed density, selling former school buildings and identifying growth areas.

The biggest problem some towns have encountered is the people who already live there.

“Any new development is incredibly wrenching for neighbors,” said Maureen O’Meara, Cape Elizabeth’s town planner. “It’s slow. There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of resistance.”

She said she’s learned to quell the opposition by making sure “there’s something in it” for them, oftentimes open space.

Scarborough has met with neighbors about zoning changes to hear their concerns before there are any public hearings or votes, said Town Councilor Will Rowan.

“When it gets to the council, it’s pretty smooth sailing,” he said.

Falmouth has adjusted its zoning to make way for more housing along its commercial corridors, but projects that would take advantage of the changes haven’t been proposed, said Theo Holtwijk, director of long-range planning and economic development.

“The test for Falmouth is still to come,” he said.

South Portland Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said renters have accounted for the city’s population growth in the past 10 years, but there’s not much more room in its rental neighborhoods of Mill Creek and Knightville – South Portland’s version of Portland’s “peninsula.”

“People really love the city, the character of the neighborhoods,” Reny said. “We can’t go too far away from what it is the community wants.”

So, the city has started looking elsewhere to add more multi-family housing, namely the area around the Maine Mall, where local workers might also like to live.

Westbrook also has an established rental community that’s increased in popularity with the recent influx of immigrants who have founder larger apartments that can accommodate families there, said Dick Begin, development director for Westbrook Development Corp.

The problem, he said, is the age of Westbrook’s housing stock and the quality and code problems that come along with that.

Although each community’s situation is different, the officials acknowledged they’re facing many of the same challenges, from a growing senior population to parking requirements.

And, they agreed, the overarching problem – a need for more housing – is one they all share.

“I see this as a regional responsibility,” Reny said.

 


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