BELFAST — Councilors approved April 5 new rural zoning amendments affecting about 80% of city land that create seven new zoning districts and discontinue some former districts. The amendments allow multifamily housing on more lots than was previously allowed.

The most prominent changes allow multifamily housing developments on land with a septic tank. Previously, the city only allowed those developments on properties with city sewer access, according to city planner Wayne Marshall.

The other substantial change creates options for property owners to develop other types of housing, including multifamily units, on land that already contains a single-family home, which has been coined flex-housing. Landowners can choose to build different types of housing based on how big their lot is. The minimum development lot is 2 acres.

For example, on a 2-acre lot in the outside rural 1 zone, a property owner can propose a maximum of four dwelling units per structure, with a maximum of three structures on the lot, Marshall said. Some lots could have a single-family house and a multifamily housing structure.

“For the first time in what is 30-plus years, the city would be allowing multifamily housing in areas where it’s not now being allowed,” he said.

The city would use the same performance standards established for multifamily housing units for flex-housing proposals, he said. “This is a change, this is a significant change,” he said. “And the hope is that this change may result in a greater opportunity for housing development.”

Councilor Paul Dean moved to accept the changes with three amendments. They address aspects of the proposal he took issue with at the first reading March 1.

He proposed that for Outside Rural 1 and Route 3 Rural zones the city reduce the 2-acre minimum lot size to 1.5 acres, drop the proposed 200-foot street frontage minimum to 150 feet and reduce the property setback requirements from 50 feet in the front to 30 feet.

Other councilors supported changing the 50-foot setback to 30 feet, but they did not seem to favor Dean’s other changes.

Marshall said the Maine Department of Transportation does not usually allow a driveway on a newly created lot with only 150 feet of road frontage. The 200-foot minimum has not been an impediment since it was established in 1997.

He said the 2-acre minimum lot size does not just apply to single-family housing, but to properties with duplexes on them. He thought dropping that down to 1.5 acres did not make sense, saying there needs to be more of a cushion when allowing more development options on a property.

Dean expressed concern that the 2-acre minimum and 200-foot frontage could be cost-prohibitive for some people looking to build their own home. He said 1.5 acres was not much different from 2 acres, adding that the changes proposed were good for a lot of people in the community, but not everyone.

The requirements could create a situation where some landowners end up selling their land to developers for multifamily housing projects, he said. “But what I’m saying is that there is a good chance that we’re leaving some people behind, and they’re not going to be developers. We’re going to lose the people who sell their properties to allow those to happen.”

Ultimately, Dean’s motion failed and Mortier moved to accept the amendments, only changing the proposed 50-foot setback requirement to a 30-foot setback. Councilors voted in favor of her motion.

Hurley said there is no single solution to the housing crisis in the city and that he hopes this is one thing that helps improve housing availability. “I keep running into people who think they’ll give me one silver bullet after another on how we can cure housing,” he said. “There is no silver bullet; we need a shotgun, and this is part of that.”

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