The City Council took a concrete step Tuesday to encourage the creation of more housing in South Portland with the approval of zoning changes that permit accessory dwelling units in all single-family residential zones.

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are separate, smaller residences on the property of a single-family home. They include basement and garage apartments or smaller houses, and are often referred to as granny flats or in-law apartments.

Owners of lots that were considered too small for ADUs now are permitted to build them. ADUs may be as large as 800 square feet on a quarter-acre or smaller lot and up to 1,200 square feet on larger lots. The requirement for two parking spaces for each ADU was eliminated. The amendments also streamline the ADU approval process by revising and clarifying application requirements and eliminating the need for a Planning Board public hearing.

The amendments were two years in the making. First discussed at a City Council workshop in October 2020, the need for them was included in a Housing Assessment and Strategy Report presented to the council June 16 of this year. The report “identified a critical need for housing production in the city and recommended significant modifications to the City’s ADU regulations to enable this form of infill housing,” according to City Manager Scott Morelli.

The amendments are designed to follow regulations set by a new state law, LD 2003, that deregulates ADUs throughout the state.

A separate amendment requires any ADUs built once the amendments go into effect at the end of this month to be long-term rentals. ADUs that are currently short-term rentals will not be affected.


Before the vote, landlord Phil Notis took issue with a provision that the owner of the ADU must occupy a unit on the property.

“I’ve got this very small house on a very large lot, three-quarters of an acre,” he said. “I’d like to add something there, but I can’t move into it.”

Notis suggested that one of the reasons for the occupancy requirement is to ensure landlords are keeping a close eye on their units. He said a compromise could be requiring the property owner to live in Cumberland County.

Councilors said they would like to give the occupancy requirement a closer look but were intent on taking action Tuesday.

“I think that, yes, it took a long time for this ordinance to come to the table, but I don’t think it would take as long to get a change to it moving forward,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton. “I also think that with real estate, that area is so ripe for capitalism and taking advantage of situations that I’d like to go forward with as many provisions as possible that keep the local economy safe and keep local folks safe in the sense that we are creating an opportunity for more housing, opposed to an opportunity to make more money.”

Councilor Susan Henderson agreed.

“I think it’s important right now, in this time and place in our city, and in our legal understanding of what we can do to protect affordable housing, that we leave the owner occupancy in there,” she said, later adding, “There’s no reason why we can’t come back to it in the future.”

Henderson also suggested that not requiring the owners to live on the property could cause the units to “be scooped up by investors” which could lead to them becoming unaffordable.

Housing is an issue that is poised to be before the council in the months to come. In addition to the ADU amendments, the council extended the city’s eviction moratorium on Tuesday and has a rent stabilization workshop scheduled for January.

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