Voters in Cape Elizabeth will decide next month whether to uphold controversial zoning amendments that apply to affordable housing developments in the town center.

It’s a choice between giving the town a fresh start in its efforts to create affordable housing and taking the first concrete step toward a solution, according to those on opposite sides of the debate.

The amendments approved by the Town Council a year ago were designed to allow a four-story building with affordable apartments to be built next to the Town Hall, in the Town Center District.

A petition drive to force a referendum to overturn the amendments, spearheaded by resident Cynthia Dill, succeeded in getting the question on the Nov. 8 ballot. In the face of the opposition, the proposed project, Dunham Court, was scrapped by developers.

Striking down the zoning changes, in tandem with the town’s newly formed Housing Diversity Committee, will give Cape Elizabeth a fresh start in the “exciting work of creating affordable housing,” Dill, an attorney, said in an interview this week.

“There’s a new committee, there’s a new state law,” Dill said. “We’ve got the tools, we’ve got the desire, and what we need now is to just clear the deck of this really divisive issue and, hopefully, take the next step for creating affordable housing.”


Jamie Garvin, council chairperson when the amendments were passed, says they are a key part of the bigger picture. Garvin’s council term ended in December 2021, but he has continued to voice his support for the zoning changes.

“Effectively, this would lay the groundwork and foundation for future development opportunities,” Garvin said in an interview with The Forecaster this week.

He said he was previously “naïve” when it came to affordable housing policies and development, but the amendment process “opened my eyes to what a serious economic and social issue it is today.”

“When this was brought forward, it really sort of kindled the spark in me that I didn’t necessarily know was there in terms of feeling very passionate about trying to do something from a policy perspective,” Garvin said, “to create progress, to help create a solution – at least some small part of a solution – to help address the problem.”

While the zoning changes accommodated the Dunham Court developers, Garvin emphasized that the amendments apply to multiple plots of land in the town center district. They would be effective, he said,  in bringing more affordable housing to Cape Elizabeth, a town that added just two affordable units to its housing stock between 2010 and 2020, according to a recent report.

“One of the things that people criticized throughout the process was that they were amendments that were being created specifically for a single developer and a single property,” he said. “That is obviously not the case because we’re still voting on them.”


The amendments apply to affordable housing developments in the Town Center District that consist of 10 or more residential units.

Under the amendments, a minimum of 70% of those residential units are required to be affordable to low-income households and must remain so for at least 45 years. The amendments also increase the density of units permitted in the district from 3,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet, the maximum footprint of a building from 5,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet, and the maximum building height from 35 to 45 feet. The amendments eliminate the requirement of providing commercial space on the first floor and reduce the number of off-street parking spaces required.

Dunham Court didn’t align with the town’s comprehensive plan and wouldn’t have served the town’s affordable housing needs, Dill said, but there is still a path forward.

“We still have, as a town, opportunities to develop multifamily housing in the town center,” Dill said, “but we would be abiding by the new state law, LD 2003, which would allow for greater density – twice the density – and reduced parking, but would still keep intact the local design standards of height restriction and the requirement to have commercial activity on the first floor.”

There are multiple paths forward, Garvin said, noting that the housing diversity committee will explore different solutions to the town’s shortage of affordable housing, as well as the impact of LD 2003.

“I think those of us that favored these ordinance changes always saw it as just one piece of a much bigger puzzle,” Garvin said. “I think a lot of people that were sort of against that specific Dunham Court development were somewhat narrowly looking at it like this is the only thing that is on the table. In fact, there’s a variety of other things that are hopefully going to be implemented, as well. I think these ordinance changes are a necessary and worthy part of that entire mix.”

Comments are not available on this story.