MILBRIDGE, Maine — Milbridge voters approved a new land use and zoning ordinance more than 2-to-1 Monday, a move that will allow a controversial housing development to proceed.
Town Manager Lewis Pinkham said the land use ordinance passed by a 50-23 vote.
He described the new ordinance as a “middle of the road” document that addresses standard building requirements but does not deal with new technologies such as wind turbines and communication towers.
“Those will be on the planning board’s next agenda,” Pinkham said.
The housing development, the first of its kind in the state of Maine, was proposed by Mano en Mano, which serves the area’s agricultural population. When migrant workers opted to stay in the area and seek permanent employment, Mano en Mano found housing was a problem.
The nonprofit agency obtained a $1 million federal grant to build a six-unit housing development for those who work in the agriculture or aquaculture industries and live permanently in the area. Tenancy was based on the type of employment, not the tenants’ race, and tenants would be required to be U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents.
However, in June voters approved a 180-day moratorium on multiunit housing, a move that effectively halted the Mano en Mano project.
The town quickly became divided. Charges of racism against immigrant workers were lodged on one side, while others expressed worries about lost jobs and how the six-unit housing would affect the cost of town services.
Town officials consistently maintained that the moratorium was necessary to get a zoning ordinance in place. Pinkham said Milbridge was unprepared to deal with large housing projects such as the Mano en Mano proposal and was merely protecting itself by installing regulations.
Pinkham has said the town has never been racist and has enjoyed a long reputation as a welcoming, tolerant community.
At a recent town meeting where a move to overturn the moratorium was defeated, racist comments by one speaker were booed and shouted down by other residents, bolstering Pinkham’s opinion.
A federal injunction filed after the June moratorium allowed Mano en Mano to proceed through the planning board process but not to break ground or begin construction.
Monday’s vote effectively ends the moratorium, and Pinkham said the Mano en Mano project can now proceed through the planning board process.
“They will not be on the next agenda,” he said, “because we are waiting for further information on water testing, financial information and lighting concerns.”
Anais Tomezsko, Mano en Mano’s director, Tuesday called the ordinance approval “a step in the right direction. Now we will continue to move toward final approval.”