The Brunswick Town Council voted Tuesday to extend a moratorium on most major housing projects while the town’s Housing Committee develops new policies to encourage the construction of more affordable units.

The 180-day extension, intended to slow a wave of high-end market rate projects town officials fear could permanently box out affordable and workforce housing, blocks new projects that contain at least 30 housing units unless at least 15% of those units are reserved for households making no more than Brunswick’s area median income.

“I know that there are some people who feel that the moratorium should not continue, that we should have more development,” Housing Committee member Carol O’Donnell said shortly before the vote. “My concern is that the development may not meet the needs of the wider population that need housing.”

The council’s initial moratorium sparked controversy last June when residents and members of the housing industry warned the measure could exacerbate Brunswick’s housing shortage by stifling development.

As the original moratorium neared its expiration date in December, several members of the Housing Committee continued to express reservations about restricting developers at a time when demand for units far outweighs supply.

“I’ve always been a promoter of build, build, build units, because that does create flow in the marketplace,” Brunswick Housing Authority Executive Director and Housing Committee member John Hodge said last month. “We need to get that flow going again in the development world.”


Yet Tuesday’s unanimous vote stirred no debate among the Town Council, which praised the Housing Committee for its work toward a detailed action plan.

“When we set this for public hearing, (Economic Development Director Sally) Costello told us that we are getting pretty close to a final recommendation,” Council Chairperson Jim Mason said. “I think that is speaking well of this committee, given how we often don’t get ‘pretty close’ that quickly.”

The committee’s final plan, which could include altering Brunswick’s density codes, implementing inclusionary zoning restrictions and expanding the town’s new affordable housing support fund, will need to strike a tricky balance of incentives and mandates if it’s to have success easing the housing crunch, said developer, realtor and property manager Dave Holman.

While inclusionary zoning mandates, like the one baked into Brunswick’s moratorium, can nudge developers toward building much-needed affordable units, they can also scare builders out of town, Holman said. He cited Portland’s stringent affordability requirement, which has chilled the very development the policy was intended to promote, according to some.

“It’s another fee, it’s another cost, it’s less rent coming in the door,” he said. “It would have been a big bucket of cold water if we had not been planning on it.”

Yet thanks to cooperation from the town, Holman’s team has been able to meet and exceed the moratorium’s affordability requirement and advance a new, 63-unit development in Brunswick Landing. Comprised of a mix of affordable and workforce units, which are notoriously difficult to finance, the project will be possible because Brunswick officials agreed to organize a tax increment financing agreement, Holman said.

That type of problem solving will continue to be vital as Brunswick searches for ways to attract developers while protecting the interests of low-income residents, according to Hodge.

“We need to have a multiple-pronged attack on this problem,” he said. “We have to look at it from all angles.”

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