Advocates of a defeated building moratorium in Westbrook said Tuesday they will continue to push for changes to the city’s code of ordinances, but they are now unlikely to block a project that prompted much of their concern.

The Westbrook City Council on Monday voted down a proposal for a 180-day stay on building permits for subdivisions with more than 10 housing units. That measure failed on a 3-3 tie vote, a blow to the neighbors who are alarmed by the rapid pace of residential construction in the city.

But their group, called Westbrook Forward, will still advocate for the reforms they want, which include changes to the city’s land-use ordinance and an increase in the minimum lot size for new homes.

Brian Bozsik, a resident of Maple Street and one of the group’s leaders, said he is glad the City Council has already agreed to establish a system for collecting impact fees on new construction.

“Our belief that Westbrook needs to fix its ordinances and performance standards is as strong as ever, and we will still be seeking improvements through the planning board and city council,” Bozsik wrote in an email.

Those changes will likely be too late to curtail an expansion at Blue Spruce Farm on Spring Street, which inspired much of Westbrook Forward’s drive.

Nearly 200 single-family homes and apartments are already occupied or under construction in that subdivision, and City Planner Jennie Franceschi said she has now received final application materials from developer Risbara Bros. for 108 additional apartments.

Without a moratorium, Franceschi said the Westbrook Planning Board could possibly approve those buildings by the end of the year.

She noted the latest plans include a 200-foot buffer between the apartment buildings and the nearest neighbors, and the builder is considering a variety of treatments for the outside of the buildings for “a neighborhood feel.”

“I think that the plans, as they have been laid out, have really tried to incorporate a lot of the comments and concerns that have been brought up as part of the process,” the city planner said.


While other developers have proposed residential projects or purchased land with the intention of building a new neighborhood, the Risbara Bros. project became a target because of its immediacy, its size and its high volume of rental units.

Rocco Risbara, president of Risbara Bros., did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

At Monday’s meeting, he indicated Risbara Bros. would consider legal action against the city if it enacted a moratorium.

“I have no desire to sue the city, but I don’t have any choice,” Risbara said. “My brothers and I have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The City Council has heard public testimony on a proposed moratorium at various meetings since August.

Supporters have said a moratorium would allow the city a much-needed pause to review its policies and ordinances on housing development. In particular, they have expressed specific concern about how an influx of new residents could affect schools.

On the Nov. 8 ballot, voters will consider a referendum on a $27 million expansion for two Westbrook schools, which officials and parents say are stretched beyond their capacity.

Many of those supporters are homeowners and residents of Westbrook.

Opponents, however, have said a moratorium would scare off builders and hinder economic development.

Most of the people who have spoken against the idea work in real estate development or own businesses in Westbrook.

The City Council eventually split on the issue.

At-large Councilor John O’Hara, Ward 2 Councilor Victor Chau and Ward 5 Councilor Michael Sanphy voted in favor of the measure. At-large Councilor Michael Foley, Ward 3 Councilor Anna Turcotte and Ward 4 Councilor Gary Rairdon were opposed.

While Foley was one of the most outspoken critics of the moratorium proposal, the votes from Turcotte and Rairdon came as a surprise to some residents. Turcotte said she believed the city could address the concerns of its residents without the proposed moratorium.

“A moratorium should not be part of that process unless there is a dire need,” Turcotte said Tuesday. “I believe with the language that was presented to us, that need was not demonstrated. I was torn up for a while about it, and I kept going back and forth.”

Council President Brendan Rielly recused himself from Monday’s vote because another lawyer at his firm has represented Risbara Bros.

Mayor Colleen Hilton is not a voting member of the council, but she has repeatedly voiced her concerns with the moratorium proposal.

“I just want to make clear that the moratorium is not the magic bullet,” Hilton said.


The vote took place just two weeks shy of Election Day, which is sure to change the makeup of the council.

Hilton and Foley are not running for reelection in November. The race to succeed the mayor is contested, and as many as three newcomers could also join the City Council in December.

Every candidate in a competitive race has voiced support for a moratorium or changes to the city’s zoning ordinances related to housing development.

But even the moratorium’s opponents on the City Council have signaled a willingness to make changes.

The City Council already voted to study and implement impact fees for developers, which Bozsik said is a victory for Westbrook Forward.

“That’s some positive change that puts us in line with the practices of our surrounding communities and we’re proud of that accomplishment,” he wrote in an email.

Turcotte voted in favor of enacting impact fees, and said she would like to see a committee review the city’s land-use ordinances in response to the concerns that have been raised over the past several months.

“I understand where everybody who spoke for the moratorium comes from,” Turcotte said. “I live here. I feel the pain. However, I disagreed with the approach.”

The City Council also already asked the Planning Board to review areas of concern in Westbrook’s land use ordinance. Franceschi said the board has been too busy in recent weeks to take up that debate, but she expected to schedule it soon.

“I believe that a lot of the questions that have been raised during the course of this process might actually be addressed,” Franceschi said.