Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 21, 2012
Castine subcommittees debate zoning, hear affordable housing model
by Anne Berleant
In a joint meeting, the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee’s housing and zoning subcommittees met on June 18. Rick Rogers, executive director of the nonprofit community group Islesboro Affordable Property, was an invited guest speaker.
The zoning and housing subcommittees are tasked with achieving the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan, approved by voters in 2010. Toward that end, CPIC goals include encouraging commercial development and providing the means for construction of affordable housing.
Rogers described the model IAP used to bring affordable housing to Islesboro, which is similar in size to Castine. Using a combination of state and federal funding and community fundraising, IAP built 13 houses on donated land. Of the 16-member board of IAP, eight are summer residents.
“We put people with large checkbooks on the board, and they’re very generous,” Rogers said.
Six of the houses are rentals, and their monthly income of $625 each helps sustain IAP’s business model. All houses have deed restrictions—“otherwise we’re in the spec business,” said Rogers. Of the houses sold, IAP retains the title to the lot itself and owners pay a lease fee; IAP pays for septic systems and property taxes.
Rogers also said that IAP has subsidized $18,500 of the yearly costs for the houses, something he acknowledges is not practical in the long-term. “We can’t continue to build houses that don’t pay for themselves.”
The affordable housing model proposed by the zoning subcommittee is quite different. They want to change zoning regulations to stimulate off-neck cluster housing built by private developers.
“Who’s going to hold the debt?” asked Rogers. He suggested soliciting land for donation, offering the tax write-off as incentive. Affordable housing built on MDI that the housing subcommittee has reviewed also used donated land.
In other business, zoning subcommittee members were divided as to whether to allow restaurants and inns on-neck but outside of the commercial district and in the off-neck rural zone.
Economic development consultant Sue Walsh questioned the wisdom of drawing people out from the main shopping area, and whether, business-wise, off-neck would be the most attractive place for a restaurant. “Creating the opportunity makes it possible, but if it doesn’t make business sense, it won’t happen,” she said. Most but not all subcommittee members did not agree.
A discussion on whether to allow inns and bed-and-breakfasts in residential areas on-neck gained a consensus, if not unanimous approval.
“The inns drive a lot of the retail sales in Castine,” said Lee Witting, a member of the Comprehensive Plan committee and owner of a downtown business that closed. When the Castine Harbor Lodge closed on Perkins Street, he said, “You could see the impact.”
Members also raised concerns on sufficient parking for, and negative impacts to immediate neighbors of, inns and restaurants located in a residential, on-neck area.
“Economic development itself implies change,” said zoning subcommittee member Lynn Parsons, questioning whether “one person should have veto power because of proximity.” Witting commented that the impact of Maine Maritime Academy student parking on the commercial district “can’t be ignored” and was of as much concern as potential parking problems in residential areas.
Rick Rogers, who was present for the zoning discussion, said that it was “essential” to have the community behind an affordable housing effort. “People on the committee have to be in agreement before getting community support,” he added.