Volunteer Andrew Magoun registers a voter at Cumberland Town Hall on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

CUMBERLAND — Residents shot down a proposed housing development Tuesday that had ignited a debate about the town’s role in addressing the affordable housing crisis, with more than two-thirds of those voting in the referendum rejecting the plan.

Preliminary results showed the proposal failed 2,545 to 1,163, Town Clerk Jennifer Doten said. Almost 58% of Cumberland’s 6,883 registered voters cast a ballot in the referendum. It is still too early to quantify statewide voter turnout, but town clerks had described it as low earlier in the day.

A steady stream of voters headed into Cumberland Town Hall throughout the morning to cast ballots in the presidential primary and on the $40 million affordable housing project. Before Tuesday, more than 1,800 of the town’s nearly 7,000 registered voters had requested absentee ballots, a number that’s higher than usual for a primary, Doten said.

Richard Briggs said he voted in favor of an affordable housing project because young people can no longer afford to live in town. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Housing has gotten too expensive for an awful lot of people in town, including myself if I had to rebuy today,” said Richard Briggs, who said he voted in favor of the project. “A lot of younger couples can’t afford to live here anymore.”

But opponents have questioned the size of the project, its location and the impact it could have on taxes and schools. A group called Citizens for Responsible Housing formed to oppose the proposal.

“We felt there was a lot of uncertainty with who would be living there and thought the income level was a bit low for the people we want to attract to town,” said Caitlin Day, who brought her 1-year-old son, William, with her to vote. She also is concerned about adding more students to schools that are already overcrowded.


The proposal from the nonprofit Westbrook Development Corporation calls for the construction of three buildings with a total of 107 units – 36 of which would be for seniors. The apartments would be available to households earning less than 60% of the area median income – between $49,740 and $70,980 depending on the number of people in the household.

The development would be built on town-owned land off Drowne Road, a site selected by the Town Council. The project would primarily be funded through federal low-income housing tax credits.

Caitlin Day, with her son William, 1. Day said she voted against an affordable housing proposal in Cumberland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Town leaders say affordable housing is needed in Cumberland, a suburb where the median household income is more than twice the state median and median home sale prices have been among the highest in the state in the last few years. Supporters of the project say the lack of affordable housing creates economic barriers to who can live in town, prevents people from aging in place and stops others with connections to the community from moving back.

Bill Moulton said he is not opposed to affordable housing developments, but decided to vote no because he felt the proposal hadn’t been out long enough for people to really look into it.

Some voters said they struggled to make up their minds.

K.C. Putnam, who has lived in town for 35 years, said he was very conflicted but ultimately decided to vote against it. While he likes the idea of affordable housing, he said he didn’t like that the development would be so close to the town forest.


Bill Moulton said he voted against an affordable housing proposal because he felt it hadn’t been out long enough for people to really look into it. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Brian Nam-Sonenstein said he listened to the arguments against the proposal, but found them unpersuasive and voted for the project.

Several residents said they had planned to vote in the primary, and the referendum was an extra incentive to get to the polls because they strongly support the housing proposal.

“I think it’s the kind and welcoming thing to do. I feel strongly that our town should welcome a variety of people,” said Katie Campbell, who voted alongside her son.

Henry Campbell, who is 24 and attended Cumberland schools, said he would like to see a wider diversity of people in town, not just people who make a certain amount of money.

Katie Campbell and her son Henry Campbell said they voted yes because they want to see a variety of people in town. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

James and Lee Broder arrived together to cast their ballots for the project, which they said they both strongly support. James Broder was chairman of the town’s housing task force, which recommended developing affordable housing. He said it’s the community’s “legal and moral duty” to support affordable housing.

“I see this as an opportunity for our community to finally more broadly grow into a diverse and well-represented town,” Lee Broder said.

Staff Writer Penelope Overton contributed to this report.

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