AUGUSTA — Martha St. Pierre and attorney Mary Denison think a proposed female homeless veterans house on Summer Street should be deemed a boardinghouse by Augusta’s code enforcement office. However, there is no definition of a boardinghouse in the city’s ordinance.

St. Pierre and Denison will go before the Augusta Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday in hopes of reversing Code Enforcement Officer Robert Overton’s decision to deny the application for a building permit to the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope.

“I really hope we can get this straightened out so we can get the house open,” St. Pierre said. “The longer we wait, the longer these women are out there with their kids, looking for a place to go.”

St. Pierre’s group bought the house at 8 Summer St. in Augusta this year with the hope of converting it into a multiple-room house for female homeless veterans. The house is in a zoning district that does not permit what Overton called a rooming house.

Overton said he called it a rooming house because it contains shared bathrooms and kitchens. A rooming house isn’t permitted under the Land Use Ordinance for the medium-density residential district where the house is located.

But Denison, of the law firm Lake & Denison in Winthrop, said the definition of a rooming house doesn’t match the Betsy Ann Ross house. The city’s ordinance defines a rooming house as a structure where “three or more rooms are kept, used, maintained, advertised or held out to the public” to transient or permanent guests or tenants “for compensation.”


“We don’t meet that definition because this house isn’t held out for the public,” Denison said. “Plus, these aren’t rooms for rent. This is transitional housing.”

She said a prospective resident must meet three specific criteria before being considered for admission to the house: She must be female, she must be homeless and she must be a veteran. There are initial reviews and assessments as part of the application process.

“This is a very specific use, not a public use,” Denison said.

Matt Nazar, director of development services for the city of Augusta, said the code enforcement office looked at the use that was proposed and the definition of the uses in the ordinance and made the decision to call it a rooming house.

When asked about Denison’s assertion that the house isn’t for public use or for compensation, Nazar said there may be a debate about the definition of those two words during the appeal hearing.

St. Pierre said because the state and the city don’t define a boardinghouse, Overton “just chose to call it a rooming house.”


Group and boarding homes are permitted in the zoning district where the house is located, but those types of housing require a license from the state. Denison said homeless housing “falls through the cracks” and doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Earlier this month, St. Pierre said that to be classified as a group home, the property would have to be licensed as a mental health facility, which she said wouldn’t be fair to the women living there.

“The majority of these women are not mentally ill, so why give them another label if we don’t have to?” she said. “We’d only be able to house women with mental illness.”

The organization has held several meet-and-greets at the house over the last several weeks. St. Pierre said she expects several supporters, wearing Betsy Ann Ross T-shirts, to attend the appeals hearing, though only her attorney and Augusta’s legal counsel will be permitted to speak.

The zoning snag is delaying the opening of the facility, St. Pierre said, but she’s continued to seek donations and help in getting the house open, if and when the building permit is approved. The 178-year-old home contains more than 4,000 square feet and an attic, and would provide accommodations for nine female veterans and their children for up to two years.

“I got a call the other day from a woman looking for a place to stay, but I couldn’t give her a date,” St. Pierre said. “I felt horrible because I have nothing for her.”

The five-person Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the City Center Lecture Hall. This is the board’s third meeting this year, and it will be the seventh appeal heard since 2013.


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