I served on the town of Cumberland’s Affordable Housing Task Force and support new approaches encouraging the development of affordable housing in town. Unfortunately, I can’t support the proposed 107-unit Drowne Road affordable housing project in its current form. This project has been rushed through by the Town Council without real scrutiny or negotiation, too many unanswered questions exist and it’s simply too big for its proposed location.

The task force recommended 50 units of housing at the proposed site as part of a three-site approach addressing community-wide needs. The concept was to locate 150 units, split evenly between sites on Route 1, the Center and West Cumberland. We also recommended changes designed to empower the Cumberland Housing Authority to encourage and oversee suitable projects and changes to subdivision standards to promote affordable housing inside of traditional developments. Unfortunately, the Town Council has yet to engage with most of these recommendations, focusing on this single project.

Beyond basic issues like traffic, impact on the town forest and school crowding, there are three major issues needing attention that argue against approving this project at this time:

1. Tax impacts – The town claims there will be no impact on property taxes if this project is built. They get there by saying TIF funds can pay for project impacts, offset school expenses (estimated at $16,000 per student) and municipal services. This rationale stumbles over reality. All TIF funds require appropriation from the then-sitting Town Council each year. This council can’t require future councils to do anything regarding how TIF dollars are spent, nor can they anticipate what other priorities will compete for those same TIF dollars (see ball fields below). If a future council has to use TIF funds for another need, the impacts of this project will drop directly to our tax bill. For this council to imply a dedicated income stream offsetting taxes exists isn’t credible or helpful to evaluating the project.

2. Replacement Little League fields – It’s important to understand that there is no actual plan or budget for new fields in this project, or in other council action to date. There is a drawing showing four fields off Stiles Way, on property that has also been discussed previously for use for affordable housing, the town garage and a train station. There are just so many dollars, TIF or otherwise, and only so much land available. “We’ll figure it out later” is no way to manage such a heavily used community resource. The costs, scale and location of new fields should be included in the discussion.

3. A silent “Phase 2” – The site plan given to the Town Council on Jan. 8 included the three buildings that make up the current 107 units that are going to a vote. It also included two additional building pads. The very limited public conversation about these pads has been that they are sites for a future building(s) to provide transitional housing. These additional pads were not shown on the site plan posted by the town on the project for reasons unknown. There is clearly an intent here within Town Hall and we should know the purpose, scale and costs of that intent before being asked to vote on the current plan.

We need affordable housing in Cumberland, but this project fails too many important tests. It deserves to be sent back to the council for genuine, public evaluation, not pushed through to check a box. An affordable housing project on Drowne Road could work, but this is not it. This project does not deserve your support and should fail in March.

Rick Doane is a resident of Cumberland.

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