ORONO, Maine — As part of the town’s comprehensive plan overhaul, officials are considering a proposal to define “student homes” in Orono and to adopt a moratorium on the creation of new student homes for the next six to 12 months.
The idea behind the proposed moratorium is to give town officials time to decide if they want to regulate student housing in zoning districts intended primarily for single-family and two-family dwellings and if so, how that would be done, Town Planner Evan Richert said Tuesday.
A draft moratorium ordinance will be discussed during a meeting of the Town Council’s community development committee set for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3.
According to Richert, Orono, like many college towns, is working to strike a balance between housing for students who are living off campus and housing for families in established neighborhoods. Richert said that both the student population and the families who live and work in Orono are crucial parts of the community.
Recently, the town’s comprehensive plan committee — after hearing continued concern from residents in established neighborhoods about the potential for continued loss of homes to student housing — recommended to the Town Council that it consider limiting conversions to student housing in sections of Orono zoned primarily for one- and two-family dwellings, Richert said.
A number of university towns in the United States do this by defining and regulating “student homes,” which are generally defined as dwelling units occupied by two or more students, sometimes limited to undergraduate students, who are not living in the dwelling with parents.
The university towns with this type of regulation then require separation distances between student homes in primarily single-family neighborhoods, Richert said.
Richert said the council won’t decide whether to enact a moratorium or to regulate student homes until they discuss the concept and receive public comment.
If the town ultimately decides to go a similar route, existing student houses would be grandfathered, he said.
According to data from the town’s Rental Registration database, there are approximately 1,658 rental dwelling units in town, a total that accounts for roughly half of all the town’s dwelling units, not including those on the University of Maine campus.
An analysis included in the town’s draft comprehensive plan update dated June 2014 shows that 335 properties housing nearly 700 rental units are located in the zoning districts at issue. Those rental units are occupied by nearly 1,400 tenants, many of them undergraduate students attending the University of Maine and other area universities and colleges, town statistics show.
A notice issued by the town stated that it is important that those involved in the buying and selling of homes in Orono and in managing rental properties, as well as the UMaine community, residents and homeowners in Orono, be aware of the possibility of a moratorium and to check with the town manager or town planner as to the status of the discussions.
Drafts are available on the town website at www.orono.org/planning.