MILBRIDGE, Maine — A group of concerned residents has launched a petition drive to force a special town meeting in an attempt to overturn a 180-day moratorium on multi-family housing.
The organizers feel that a mistake was made and that many voters did not know the potential ramifications of the moratorium. Since the vote was taken in June, the town is being sued and $1.1 million in federally backed sewer grants could be in jeopardy.
Town officials maintain that the moratorium was necessary to buy them some time to create zoning ordinances and building codes, something currently lacking in Milbridge.
But Mano en Mano, a local nonprofit organization that works with area Latino families, says the reasons for the moratorium are more sinister, rooted in racism and fear.
On Wednesday, Anais Tomezsko, executive director of Mano en Mano, announced the group was suing the town of Milbridge over the moratorium and talks were already under way Thursday between a federal judge and attorneys for the town and Mano en Mano.
Mano en Mano obtained a $1 million federal Housing and Urban Development grant to build a six-unit housing complex on Wyman Road specifically for agriculture and aquaculture workers.
Tomezsko said the housing was for U.S. citizens and being Latino was never a requirement.
She also said that other projects, some of which are larger, have been built in Milbridge without concern about zoning ordinances and without prompting a moratorium.
Also Thursday, Pat Pellegrini, a former selectwoman in Milbridge, kicked off a petition drive to overturn the moratorium. Pellegrini said if a court finds the town discriminated by imposing the moratorium, all federal grants could be in jeopardy.
She said she needs to collect 52 signatures and will present the petitions to the Board of Selectmen at its July 9 meeting.
“I am going to ask them to set a special town meeting so the community can vote to rescind the moratorium,” she said. “The town has unnecessarily put itself in some serious legal jeopardy which might have been avoided if the people who voted for the moratorium on June 16 had been better informed and less fearful. As nothing was happening on a town level, I started the petition and hope to get enough signatures so that we can vote to rescind the moratorium.”
Meanwhile, the Milbridge Planning Board held the first in a series of meetings Thursday night to create new comprehensive zoning ordinances.