The traditional suburban neighborhood lined with single family homes may be a thing of the past. That’s what Maine legislators had in mind when Governor Janet Mills recently signed Legislative Document 2003 into law. In a push for more housing and higher residential density, the law requires municipalities to allow multi-family housing in all residential zoning districts throughout the State. The new minimum allowance is a significant win for both Mainers seeking housing, as well as residential developers, landlords, and homeowners trying to maximize the residential value of their land.
Maine has long been a “Home Rule” state allowing local government broad powers to adopt their own ordinances regulating land use tailored to the specific needs of the locality. That power does not come without limitation. Local ordinances are preempted by state law when the legislature enacts regulations more restrictive than the local rule. The state may adopt the minimum threshold and a municipality can supplement the statute with more restrictive regulations. Maine’s new zoning restriction on exclusively single-family residential development should not be seen as taking Home Rule powers away from local government, but a preemption of any local Land Use regulation that forbids more than single family residential development in a particular zoning district.
LD 2003 will effectively eliminate single-family only zoning by allowing Maine property owners to build accessory dwelling units in residential areas, two-unit new residential construction in all zoning district previously allowing single-family dwellings, and up to four-unit homes in a community’s “designated growth area.” All development resulting from the rule must still observe local building rules and permitting procedures. The rule will result in more affordable housing for Mainers and reduce urban sprawl.
While the rule enacts a minimum allowance of two-family residential development on all residential zoning districts, it does not restrict a municipality from taking it a step further by allowing multi-family residential development in any zone it desires. A possible trend and desired result of the recently passed legislation would be for municipalities to use Home Rule to allow multi-unit residential development in all districts, subject to local building standards.
With more opportunity for housing comes an onslaught of residential construction, and available rental and living space. However, even with a trend toward multi-family dwellings as a universally allowed use, property development is a grueling process with procedural roadblocks around every corner. Projects often require the expertise of a trained professional to help navigate zoning laws and permitting procedures, and for preparation of documentation to municipal boards and officials. The advice of a qualified land use attorney should be sought for construction of your newly allowed accessory apartment, the development of a new multi-family complex in your City’s designated growth area, and everything in between.
Michael J. Skolnick, Esq.
Archipelago Law, LLP