This year is shaping up to be one of the busiest yet for the approval of new residential projects in Westbrook as the city “catches up” to growth in neighboring areas and becomes known as a desirable place to live, the city planner said.

Three and a half months into 2022, the Planning Board this year has approved 173 housing units – either single-family homes, individual apartments or multi-apartment projects – 40 more than in all of 2021. More than 300 others are now going through the board’s approval process.

There are also hundreds of proposed units in projects that need zoning changes from the City Council before they can begin the approval process, including 200 units proposed for the site of the Direnzo Family Mobile Park and 120 units planned for Seavey Street.

Those numbers exceed the approvals of past years, but although it may appear that residential growth is skyrocketing in the city, that’s not the case, according to City Planner Jennie Franceschi.

Typically, a busy year follows a slow year, she said.

Fewer than 100 units were approved each year in 2013 and 2014, for example, but in 2015 the Planning Board approved 333 residential units, most of those as part of the Blue Spruce Farm project off Spring Street. The following year, 58 units were approved. In 2017 and 2018, the numbers started to even out, with 136 units and 159 units approved, respectively. The year 2019 saw 118 units approved; 2020, 100; and 2021, 133.


Basically, Franceschi said, Westbrook is now experiencing the level of growth neighboring towns have had for a while. The city is now viewed as a desirable place to live.

“We are in some ways catching up to the region where we were artificially sort of suppressed for a long time for various reasons,” she said. “People like to blame the mill, the smell of it, and once that (manufacturing) process was stopped, people started to turn around that thought process and see the investment Westbrook has made in itself. You can see there is a shift in peoples’ attention in wanting to come into our community.”

Brit Vitalius of Vitalius Real Estate Group, who has been watching the local market for years, agrees.

Westbrook is benefiting from “a number of factors at one time,” Vitalius said, including the loss of the paper mill odor about a decade ago, Southern Maine’s housing crunch and a large influx of out-of-staters moving to Maine.

“Then, they are also benefiting from the unfriendly environment in Portland, the ‘Green New Deal’ and rent control. Investors don’t want to be in Portland,” he said. 

Franceschi noted that while project approval is up so far this year over previous years, many of the projects “could be years out,” like the 2020 approval of 50 units at the Vertical Harvest.


Also, not all projects approved by the city will end up being built.

An example is Rocky Ledge Capital’s 120- to 140-unit project for Seavey Street, approved in May 2021. That project was scrubbed, although Avesta and New Ventures LLC have proposed another similarly sized project for the same plot. 

A 37-lot, single-family project in 2018 from Westbrook Housing Group was scrapped, while a 2020 approval for 18 units in a multi-duplex project on Brook Street has seen no movement, among a number of smaller projects totaling 76 units in 2021 that also haven’t gained any traction.

The 304 units going through the Planning Board permitting process include the 89-unit Rivermeadow Golf Club course project, the 59-unit Twin Falls project and the 95-unit Cottages at Berkshire.

“It’s a nice mix of all kinds of housing types,” Franceschi said, with multi-units for seniors, single family homes, duplexes and affordable housing. “And it’s not in one particular area in the community.”

Vitalius said he wonders now if more high-end housing options are in store for Westbrook, a sector of the real estate market that has opened up in Biddeford. The potential is there, he said.

“It’d be interesting to see if downtown got a mix. It’s still a small town though,” Vitalius said. “But they are embracing development and growth, and the transformation of that town as it continues to go from a mill town into the 21st century city, it’s looking to do that.”

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