House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, watches a vote tally come in at the State House in Augusta on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — A top legislative Democrat significantly watered down his signature housing bill on Monday, potentially paving the way for a compromise on changes to zoning laws aiming to address Maine’s shortage of affordable housing.

An amendment offered by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, on Monday removes some of the most controversial provisions of the bill, including barring municipal growth caps and creating a state review board with the power to overturn local zoning decisions. The revised bill, which still takes on single-family zoning, stands a better chance in the Legislature.

“We’ve created a proposal here that I think builds consensus and should hopefully result in this bill becoming law,” Fecteau said Monday evening.

Lawmakers have agreed that Maine’s shortage of affordable housing is a problem but differed on how it should be addressed. Fecteau’s original bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, contained nearly all of the recommendations from a commission created last year to study affordable housing issues.

The bill received considerable support in a public hearing but also encountered pushback from key groups including the Maine Municipal Association, which represents city and town governments and argued the bill would take away too much regulatory authority and offered a one-size-fits-all solution that would not apply in some municipalities.

The revised bill ditches the state review board that could have overturned local decisions, as well as provisions that would have barred municipalities from capping the number of residential permits issued each year and required them to create “priority development zones.”

Fecteau acknowledged in an interview that it had been “tough” to abandon certain provisions, particularly the ban on growth caps. But he touted the “huge policy proposals” that remain, including a provision which allows for the construction of multifamily dwelling units with up to four homes on lots previously zoned for one, or two additional homes if a structure was already built there.

The bill also requires municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units and exempts them from growth caps and offers technical assistance to municipalities looking to implement zoning changes.

Maine has increasingly grappled with housing affordability in recent years, particularly in southern and coastal parts of the state. The state lacks about 19,000 housing units for low-income renters, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.