An affordable housing complex for senior citizens could fall victim to a proposed moratorium on residential development in Westbrook.

Alarmed by the city’s housing boom, more than 400 residents have signed a petition asking for a six-month stay on building permits for residential projects of more than 10 units. The Westbrook City Council will take a first vote on the proposal Monday.

While the moratorium’s supporters are specifically fighting large-scale subdivisions such as Blue Spruce Farm on Spring Street, the measure could also block the Westbrook Housing Authority from receiving approvals on more than 50 apartments for residents over the age of 62. The agency had hoped to bring plans for that building to the city over the winter, and a delay could jeopardize federal funds for the project.

The tension over new housing construction in Westbrook comes at a time when the Maine Housing Authority has estimated 6,000 new units will need to be built across the state for seniors in the next seven years.

“The moratorium would impact the funding,” said Chris LaRoche, executive director of the Westbrook Housing Authority. “The ripple effect is the project could be delayed for many years or not built at all.”

Westbrook Forward, the group of citizens circulating the petition for a moratorium, has not expressed any opposition to the Westbrook Housing Authority’s projects. Their concern has focused on an influx of new residents with children, which they say would stress already overcrowded schools.


Bryan Bozsik, who lives on Maple Street and is one of the group’s leaders, suggested a moratorium could be worded to protect developments for aging residents.

“Our understanding from speaking with lawyers about this is it’s perfectly reasonable to exempt senior living,” Bozsik said. “A senior housing development doesn’t have the same impact on schools or roads as, say, a 300-unit apartment complex.”

But Westbrook officials worry that such wording would open the moratorium to a legal challenge. City Planner Jennie Franceschi warned of “a slippery slope.”

“It’s going to make it real difficult to defend the moratorium if you start protecting a particular housing stock,” she said.

Between January 2015 and July of this year, Westbrook issued building permits for 370 new housing units. The bulk went to developer Risbara Bros. for nearly 200 apartments and single-family homes currently under construction at Blue Spruce Farm. Citing high demand, the builder has returned to the Planning Board with a second phase of the subdivision. While a legal dispute with the landowner has caused Risbara Bros. to scale back its plans, those plans still call for more than 100 apartments. Some residents became alarmed at the growth on Spring Street, as well as interest in other vacant pockets of land around the city. Their petition specifically asks Westbrook to revamp the city’s land use ordinance, increase the minimum lot size for new homes and enact a process for collecting impact fees on new construction. To make those changes, they have requested the 180-day moratorium, which is allowed by state law.

“Everyone is very much for development, but we want a mix of development that feels right for the city,” Bozsik said.



The Westbrook Housing Authority has a waiting list of more than 400 seniors who are looking for affordable units, so it has planned at least three apartment buildings to respond to that need. Rent in these units is typically between $750 and $850, which includes utilities.

One – the Malcolm A. Noyes Building – is under construction on East Bridge Street. A second – the Larrabee Commons on Liza Harmon Drive – has been approved by the Planning Board. The agency is waiting on the final piece of financing for that project, a tax credit award from the Maine State Housing Authority that will be announced by December. Each of those buildings will eventually open 38 apartments for seniors over 55 years old.

And a third – still unnamed – project is in the works. LaRoche said he wants to bring an application for a 52-unit building to the Planning Board in January or February. The agency has already applied for a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, which could partially finance the $9.4 million project.

“There’s funding that comes into these projects that is grant funding, whether it’s affordable housing program monies from the Federal Home Loan Bank program or tax credits,” LaRoche said. “These all have restrictions and timelines to basically put the money on the street to get the project developed. We’re talking millions of dollars, and without that money, you can’t build or maintain these apartments as affordable.”

LaRoche has spoken at public meetings about the moratorium, urging the City Council and the city’s residents to consider its impact on this project. While the 52 apartments definitely could not proceed under the moratorium as it is proposed, he worried that even the Larrabee Commons project could be affected if any changes need to be made to its site plan before construction in the spring. Even if the Westbrook Housing Authority reapplied for funding next year, he said any changes in interest rates could derail its plans.


“They’re so heavily regulated that all these small nuances cause a chain reaction,” LaRoche said of the state and federal funding agencies. “If one or both buildings are impacted, that’s 52 to 90 households that might not be able to get apartments.”

The Federal Home Loan Bank did not reply to a request for comment. Deborah Turcotte, public information manager for the Maine State Housing Authority, said that agency doesn’t get involved in local decisions and moratoriums, but the state’s aging population has prompted a significant need for senior housing units. Typically, she said, the Maine State Housing Authority wants applicants to show readiness to move forward, including municipal land use approvals.

“Any delays on the city side, for example with a moratorium, would then cause delays in a project coming to fruition,” Turcotte said.

A moratorium can’t wait either, Bozsik argued. He noted there is a local question on the November ballot for a $27 million expansion at two Westbrook schools, which administrators and parents say are already too crowded.

“If that’s in a situation where that fails, and we still have this rate of explosive growth, you’re in even worse shape,” he said. “The moratorium, in that way, makes a lot of sense.”

The City Council could enact a moratorium on an emergency basis Monday, but that would require a unanimous vote. If the councilors are split, a second reading and affirmative vote would be required next month. At a meeting in September, councilors were split on the idea. While more spoke in favor of a moratorium than against one, they asked for more information about its potential impact on the Westbrook Housing Authority project.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Room 114 at Westbrook High School.


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