KITTERY, Maine — The Town Council approved two major housing resolutions Monday night, taking another step in magnifying at the municipal level the issue of affordability and needs of a socioeconomically diverse population.
One motion gave the town’s housing working group and Town Manager Kendra Amaral the go-ahead to develop recommendations for zoning amendments that support the creation of workforce and affordable housing options. The second authorized the exploration of the old recreation center property in Admiralty Village as a possible location for a future project. The building is set for demolition.
On Jan. 14, the Town Council and Planning Board received the results of October’s two-day design charrette put on by the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast. While the charrette focused on the Foreside property at 25 Walker St., the location of the old fire station, the outcomes were meant to provide town officials and community members with tools, rather than a prescriptive plan for a particular site.
Councilors Ken Lemont and Charles Denault voiced interest in exploring the former recreation building in Admiralty Village, a neighborhood already home to much of Kittery’s workforce and shipyard families. Lemont was concerned the costs associated with relocating the ambulance service currently at 25 Walker St. would be a “tough sell” to the town.
Fair Tide Housing Executive Director Emily Flinkstrom, along with much of her staff and board, attended Monday’s meeting to urge councilors to vote in favor of both motions “to show the people of Kittery that you’re listening.” Flinkstrom said half of renters in Kittery are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
“Based on conversations that Fair Tide has been having with our partners, we’re really optimistic and we think with some persistence and creativity and support from the town, we can really make a project happen here,” she said. Approving the motions at hand would “keep the ball rolling to make sure Kittery really maintains its character of economic diversity.”
Council Vice Chairman Matt Brock, who also chairs the housing working group, said during the 15 months spent updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan, it became very clear “Kittery zoning ordinance says you can’t build workforce and affordable housing.”
“If we’re gonna change, we gotta start there,” Brock said Monday, calling an economically and culturally diverse community a more “interesting” place to live.
Per Monday night’s motion, the housing working group, along with Amaral and Planning and Development Director Adam Causey, will craft zoning recommendations that support the construction of workforce housing for Kittery residents and workers making up to 80 percent of the HUD Metro Fairmarket Area median income.
“I will support this but I just want to make sure that I say it,” said Denault, “I’m quite concerned if we start changing some zoning that the developers are watching. So moving forward, I would just hope we’re sure we don’t cut any corners, or they’re coming.”
Denault said he wanted the process to “encompass intent,” and that the town “dots the i’s and crosses the t’s.”
Lemont questioned if Amaral’s role in the initiative was too burdensome to add to her daily duties as town manager. But Amaral said since it’s a “major policy item for the town (with) broad impact both positive and the potential offshoot of things,” she felt her involvement was important.
Councilor Jeffrey Thomson said he supported the motion’s sentiment but he felt it was only “one piece of the overall puzzle that is before us.”
“While this is good, I personally think that employers need to be part of this process moving forward,” Thomson said. ”(Employers) need to take a very hard look at what they pay their workers for wages, and what they offer in benefits. I don’t think there’s a lot of business owners in the Seacoast that are searching in between their sofa cushions for loose change. They do quite well. Maybe Kittery, through this process, can be a leader … of the recognition of when enough is enough.”
In regards to the second motion about a possible project in Admiralty Village, Brock said the housing working group was looking for a “yes” so it could explore the site’s appropriateness, and then ultimately report back to the council.
“The value of the charrette is it gave anyone who attended a good sense of what the process is,” said Chairwoman Judy Spiller. “And now it’s possible to look at other properties.”
Both motions passed 7-0.