State Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland

An organization that represents town and city governments across Maine voiced concern over a bill championed by a Rockland representative as one way to ease the affordable housing shortage.

The Maine Municipal Association issued an “action alert” June 9 to code enforcement officers and planning boards about “An Act To Remove Barriers to Accessory Dwelling Units and Allow Accessory Dwelling Units where Single-family Houses Are Allowed.”

“Although MMA worked with interested parties to advance changes that would make the bill more palatable, those changes were not included in the amended bill. As a result, municipal concerns, such as setbacks, height restrictions, lot density and shoreland zoning have not been addressed,” according to the MMA.

The Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee did amend the bill to allow municipalities to regulate accessory dwellings if they are used as short-term rentals.

Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, said June 11 that she and the House chair of the Committee were working with Maine Municipal to see if they can arrive at some compromise.

“A unanimous vote out of committee is a powerful place to negotiate from, so I hope the main focus of the bill will be preserved, but I am happy to negotiate to get to a place MMA can live with,” Geiger said.

A public hearing on the bill was held April 26, and the Committee voted for the bill May 10.

At the public hearing, Lynne Seeley, a longtime community planner from Yarmouth, voiced support for Geiger’s bill.

“The need for housing choices has been, and ever more continues to be, an issue communities wrestle with addressing. We view accessory dwelling units as a valuable component of a community‚Äôs effort to provide housing choices.

“ADUs offer a relatively straight forward, affordable option for accommodating housing needs that evolve from starter housing to aging-in-place over a lifetime. ADUs can provide a home for young people starting out in a community, or for single adults not looking to own, to elders who want to stay in their homes but may need live-in assistance or extra income. ADUs address a range of housing needs, encourage diversity, and strengthen a community and a neighborhood,” she said.

There was also opposition voiced at the public hearing.

Bar Harbor Town Councilor Jill Goldthwait said “LD 1312 is a significant intrusion on the right of our community to make land use decisions. The bill pre-empts municipal authority in those decisions and will create conflicts with our voter-approved local land use goals.”

As a Rockland City Councilor, Geiger was a strong supporter of an ordinance change to allow for unattached accessory dwelling units.

That was met by opposition from some residents, but the City Council adopted an ordinance March 8 after Geiger went on to the Legislature that allows detached accessory dwellings.

According to the bill’s summary, LD 1312 requires municipalities to allow one accessory dwelling unit to be included within or located on the same lot as a single-family dwelling unit.

“It prevents municipalities from imposing any of the following for accessory dwelling units: setback requirements on accessory dwelling units incorporated within an existing single-family dwelling unit; setback requirements of more than five feet for accessory dwelling units not included within a single-family dwelling unit; off-street parking requirements; separate sewer or water systems; or owner occupancy of one of the units unless one of the units is being used for short-term or vacation rentals.

“A municipality may not restrict use of one of the units on a lot as a short-term or vacation rental. A municipality may not require correction of a nonconforming use when an accessory dwelling unit is incorporated into an existing single-family dwelling unit or of an existing structure converted into an accessory dwelling unit, but a municipality may require compliance with applicable building and fire safety codes for all accessory dwelling units. A municipality’s design standards for accessory dwelling units must be clear and objective.

Accessory dwelling units within historical preservation districts must comply with historical preservation standards.”

The full Legislature has yet to vote on the bill.