Governor Mills signs bills to address Maine’s housing shortage. Saco and other municipalities throughout the state will be making changes to comply with the new law. Courtesy photo

SACO — The lack of  affordable housing is a problem throughout much of Maine especially southern Maine, including Saco.

A state bill was passed requiring municipalities to address this issue.

Saco residents asked questions of city officials about how this will affect the city during an informative session on Aug. 14. The session focused on impending alterations to Saco’s affordable housing inventory and regulations concerning accessory dwellings. The proposed modifications are being introduced ahead of a state-imposed mandate aimed at facilitating greater availability of economically viable housing throughout the state by of Jan. 1. The purpose of these proposed ordinance revisions is to comply with the state of Maine’s LD 2003, which is a state law with local requirements. The city foresees a manageable permit load, as the average is eight per year.

The state’s objective to enhance housing affordability and diversity in Maine has three elements:

  1. Permission to incorporate dwelling unit(s) in zones designated for single-family homes.
  2. Stipulations relating to accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
  3. Incentives for higher affordable housing density within affordable housing developments.

City Planner Emily Cole-Prescott answered the question, “What is Saco’s role in all of this?”

“What our role is that we have to do some zoning updates to make sure that the local municipality is in compliance with what the state is requiring,” she said.” Again, this is not a local initiative, this is a state law that is being passed down to the local municipalities. So, similar changes are going to be happening in Biddeford, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and all the other towns and cities in Maine.” She said Saco’s goals are to have enough housing to meet resident’s budget and needs, to have greater density housing in areas with sewer and water, to promote development near walkable locations and to improve existing housing stock. “Overall, the goal is a variety of housing options that will retain and welcome people of all ages, incomes, lifestyles, backgrounds, as members of our community,” she said. The ordinance could may be in effect as early as Nov. 1 said Cole-Prescott.


Affordable housing projects will be limited to zones already designated for multi-family development, said Cole-Prescott. Such units will be accessible to households with earnings that don’t exceed 80% of the median income in the county. Developers involved in affordable housing ventures will be expected to annually submit data and subject to ongoing monitoring to ensure adherence to the city’s Affordable Housing Ordinance post-approval.

Saco’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance remains largely unaltered, with ADUs, which encompass small residences capable of being either detached or connected to a single-family dwelling, continuing to be permissible in zones where they’ve previously received authorization. A significant change involves the removal of the city’s requirement for additional parking spaces, in line with state law.

Under the revised ordinance, properties within growth zones would see changes in the number of permissible units. On a vacant lot, up to four dwelling units could be erected, depending on the lot’s dimensions, and adhering to existing zoning regulations and permits. Frontage requirements would no longer be applicable.

“So we will no longer be able to require just single-family housing if somebody wants to put up another dwelling unit, as long as they meet the zoning requirements and the environmental requirements as well as capacity for wastewater and water connections,” Cole-Prescott said.

Howard Carter, director of the Water Resource Recovery Department said the upcoming construction of a wastewater treatment plant will be designed to account for projected growth and ensure 30 years of sufficient capacity.

“Ultimately it will be the city council’s choice as to where affordable housing developments are sited, state law for LD 2003 requires that the developments go where our multi-family developments go” Cole-Prescott said.  She went on to say, “Right now, the way the ordinance revisions are drafted, we do not have affordable housing developments proposed for the low-density residential zone.”

For properties with an existing single-family home, the ordinance permits the addition of one attached and one detached unit. Modular homes are accepted in this ordinance, while manufactured homes are excluded. Saco classifies tiny homes as single-family residences, precluding their addition to lots already housing primary homes. ADUs must be owned by the applicant, who is required to reside on the property. The property owner must inhabit one of the structures, while the others must be continuously occupied for at least 30 days at a time. People with questions about short-term rentals were told that the Short-Term Rental ordinance is under review.

The city council plans to host a public hearing and final reading of the proposed changes in either September or October.

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