The Cape Elizabeth Town Council on Monday passed long-debated zoning amendments needed to comply with a state mandate to reduce obstacles to new housing.

The amendments were passed 6-1 with Councilor Tim Reiniger opposed.

The state mandate, L.D. 2003, sets the minimum a municipality must do to ease restrictions for new housing. Changes needed to be on the books by Jan. 1 to comply with the new law.

“The intent of L.D. 2003 is to create housing,” said Councilor Penny Jordan.

Cape Elizabeth’s changes include decreasing the minimum size of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, from the town’s previous 300 square feet to the mandated 190 square feet. Two dwelling units will now be allowed on any residential lot and up to four units are possible per lot in a designated growth district as long as lot size and setback requirements are met. Roughly 17% of the town is in a growth district, according to Town Planner Maureen O’Meara, but less than 1% of single-family properties in town would meet the size and setback criteria to build four units.

As mandated, the town will also offer incentives to developers to build more affordable, rather than market-rate, housing by allowing a greater density in designated growth areas and requiring only two off-street parking spaces for every three units. To qualify for the incentives, developers must make at least half of their units affordable to those earning 80% or less of the area’s median income and those units must remain affordable for at least 30 years.



In some instances, the town made more changes than what was mandated. For the ADUs, for example, it set a maximum footprint of 1,100 square feet, up from the town’s currently allowed 600 feet.

Some residents at the meeting Monday took issue with the non-mandated changes, saying the Ordinance Committee, which came up with the changes, had said it would stick to the minimum requirements and let the town’s Housing Diversity Study Committee determine where they should get more aggressive.

“If they honored their word and did the minimum … this would have passed a long time ago,” said Tim Dew. “There’s a lot of discussion to be had, but that discussion has a home and we were told that was going to be with the Housing Diversity Study Committee.”

Reiniger proposed an amendment on Monday that included keeping the ADU maximum size at 600 square feet, but that amendment failed 6-1, with Councilor Susan Gillis voting in favor.

Members of the Ordinance Committee were asked to explain their decision on the 1,100-square-foot maximum.

“Looking across the country and researching other states, (ADUs) range in size, on average, from 800 to 1,800 (square feet),” said Jordan, chairwoman of the committee. “The other thing is that during the Housing Diversity Study Committee’s survey, one of the things that did come back is that it seemed like 1,100 square feet or greater seemed to be where the majority land, which sort of reinforced the direction we were heading.”


Councilor Gretchen Noonan, a member of the Ordinance Committee, said the decision was made with residents in mind.

“We had gotten a lot of feedback from people who wanted to build an ADU for a loved one and 600 square feet was not enough,” Noonan said, adding that most of them were parents looking to create an ADU for their adult children to move back to town.

Other residents said they were disappointed that some are willing to just do the bare minimum. Cherie Gustafson pointed to the unhoused encampments in Portland.

“This reality isn’t just a Portland problem. It’s a Mainer problem, it’s an American problem, it’s a human-decency problem,” she said. “When I hear that we should only (put in) the bare minimum effort to come into legal compliance, I feel really, really sad about that.”

Reiniger drew criticism from some audience members before the council took up the amendments for comments he made at a Nov. 1 workshop about the impact of L.D. 2003.

“We have to be looking at foreign language teachers in the schools, maybe even more school space, more police, more streetlights, more general assistance, welfare programs,” he said at that workshop. “It’s going to have a huge impact on a town where 98% of taxes (come from homeowners) … I appreciate the work being done but I think we need to know how this will affect the town budget.”


Cape Elizabeth resident Aglae Velasco Shaw, who said she was an English language learner when she was in school, said at Monday’s meeting that she “took great offense to his comments and found them to be racist.”

“His insinuation that providing additional housing in our town would be a drain on resources is a misinformed comment, in my opinion,” she said. “These comments go against what I love about this town, and this is also very personal to me.”

Eliza Matheson also took issue with Reiniger’s comments.

“These comments in and of themselves may seem innocuous but are actually very hurtful to a lot of people in our town,” she said. “Whether or not the intent was to come off as exclusionary or not welcoming, that does not matter as much as (what) I’ve heard from several people that it hurt to hear that from a leader in town.”

Other residents said that claiming Reiniger’s comments were racist diminished the meaning of racism.

“How dare he list off a series of budget items that are known to be associated with the housing crisis seen by our neighboring communities over the past several years,” asked John Lewis. “Think he’s wrong? How about challenging him on these budgetary concerns one by one?”

Lewis cited a report by the Portland Press Herald on the record number of English language learners entering Portland schools and the financial implications.

“Ignoring these and other well-documented costs that have exploded during the crisis of the past few years is not virtuous. It’s irresponsible,” Lewis said. “I have to wonder how many people in this room have actually experienced racism. As someone who has, let me assure you, you can all breathe a sigh of relief that Tim Reiniger is not the grand wizard of Cape Elizabeth.”

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