Kittery residents successfully halted a controversial, large-scale development project last week, putting the town in line with others up and down the coast that are wrestling with how to balance the need for more – and affordable – housing with the desire for measured growth.

Dennett Landing, a 900-unit project with a $300 million price tag, was designed to provide a significant increase in housing in southern Maine, particularly around the busy Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The development would have gone in an 82-acre stretch of previously undeveloped land west of the Maine Turnpike. 

The proposal featured 11 distinct units, four of them exclusively residential with either three-story townhouses or four-story buildings with studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Only about 10 percent of the 900 units would be classified as affordable housing. Plans also featured a brewery, intended as a community gathering point; about 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; a medical or office building; a laboratory or life sciences building; an assisted living center; a day care center and walking and biking paths. 

But residents pushed back against the project, which could have increased Kittery’s population by over 20 percent.

Opponents to the project filed a petition to strike down the relatively recent mixed-use neighborhood zone the project was intended for, and instead reinstate the area’s previous zoning designation, the business park zone.

In a special joint town council and planning board meeting Wednesday, councilors unanimously approved the zoning change, as well as a 180-day moratorium on development projects in the area. The changes will go into effect Aug. 12.


This, according to Judy Spiller, council chairperson, will allow town officials and residents to figure out what they want to do with the property.

During Wednesday’s heated meeting, residents raised concerns about the scale of the project and its potential impact on taxes, the environment, public services and traffic, among others.

Cindy Lindley, a resident, called the project unacceptable.

“The implications of a project of this size on the taxpaying citizens of Kittery are astronomical and to me, unacceptable,” she said. 

Ethan Bensley, who was part of the signature effort, said he was concerned the town was susceptible to an “inordinate” amount of influence and decision-making from wealthy out-of-state entities. 

“I am opposed to diluting my vote as a Kittery homeowner and resident and increasing the potential that transplant apartment dwellers, able to commute to Portsmouth or Boston and able to afford a $2,400 a month apartment, will not necessarily vote for the same interests that long-term Kittery residents would support,” he said. “This is ruining what Kittery is all about.” 


The business park zone, he said, is the “lesser of two evils.” 

The current mixed-use neighborhood zone consists of about 90 acres on the southbound side of Interstate 95 between Dennett Road and Route 36, according to Seacoast Online. The zone was originally established as a tax increment financing district (TIF), but development never materialized.

It was switched from the business park zone after months of public debate in 2018.

William Wharff, development director for the project, warned residents that with the zone change, something different will go in the area. It may be a sewer treatment plant, a gas station, an Amazon distribution center, or a manufacturing facility. 

“Something is going to happen on that 82 acres,” he said. “It’s not going to remain as it is.” 

Councilor Cyrus Clark said he was in favor of changing the zoning in whatever way residents felt was appropriate, but that he wanted to remind everyone that it was already switched once. 


“You can’t switch it back,” he said. “You have to understand what you’re getting instead.”


Kittery joins towns such as North Yarmouth and Brunswick, which have also moved to either pause or curb development, or Freeport and Cape Elizabeth, which have pushed back against large developments. 

Last month, Brunswick councilors enacted an emergency six-month moratorium on most housing development projects. 

The moratorium will halt the review of projects that contain at least 30 housing units unless at least 15 percent of those units are reserved for households making no more than Brunswick’s area median income, according to The Times Record. This will freeze three proposed development projects containing 346 housing units, though town officials said they hope to meet with developers to work around the plans. 

Councilor Christopher Watkinson told the council they should take the time to get it right. 


“Developable land for housing in Brunswick is a finite resource,” he said. “It’s not something that we’ll have forever.”

The council and town staff plan to present preliminary ideas for new housing policies or affordable housing incentives or mandates at a meeting on Monday. 

In March, after concern that the town has been growing too fast in recent years, North Yarmouth residents voted to cap building permits for residential dwelling units in two districts at no more than 15 per year. The change also limits a single person, entity or corporation from applying for more than six new units per year. 

North Yarmouth already had a cap of 15 permits in its third and largest zoning district, meaning there is now a limit of 30 permits a year in the town. 

Freeport residents have also wrestled with the potential impact of developments perceived as too large for the small town. 

In 2020, residents lobbied against a proposed 500-or-more unit development that would have been split between single-family homes, apartment buildings and duplexes. The development was planned across the street from a 144-unit project. 


Residents were concerned that adding so many people at once would change the town’s character and overwhelm the infrastructure and public services.  

After so much pushback, L.L. Bean, which owned the 250 acres intended to be developed, pulled out of the plan.

Late last year, developers pulled the plug on what would have been Cape Elizabeth’s first affordable housing project in 50 years. 

Dunham Court, the proposed 46-unit apartment complex near Town Hall, was divisive. Supporters thought the town center was the perfect location due to its proximity to schools, the pharmacy, supermarket, community center, public safety buildings and library. 

But the $13.5 million project drew significant pushback from opponents who said the project was too big, the apartments were too small for many families and it was happening too fast. 

The developers, the Szanton Company of Portland, backed out of the plans after opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on recent zoning amendments that would make construction possible.

The zoning issue will go to a vote in November. 

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: