MILBRIDGE, Maine — Mano en Mano was granted a temporary restraining order against the town of Milbridge’s 180-day moratorium on multiunit housing in federal court late Monday.
The order will allow Mano en Mano’s six-unit housing complex proposal to continue through the town’s planning board process.
“We will not be able to break ground,” Mano en Mano executive director Anais Tomezsko said. “It means we can move forward in the review process only. This is just one step. It’s going to be a long process.”
Mano en Mano last week sued Milbridge on the grounds that a moratorium enacted by voters on June 16 was discriminatory.
In 2008, Mano en Mano received a $1 million federal grant to build the first-ever, off-farm, farmworker housing in the state of Maine. The 180-day moratorium, which came two years after Mano en Mano initiated the subdivision approval process, halted the project.
The lawsuit seeks to enforce both the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Although town officials have said they proposed the moratorium to buy themselves some time to enact zoning ordinances and building codes, Tomezsko said no other project — including larger subdivisions and a multifamily housing complex twice the size of Mano en Mano’s — prompted a moratorium.
Tomezsko said she was “amazed at how fast the [temporary restraining order] was granted.”
Mano en Mano’s attorney, Bruce Mallonee of Rudman and Winchell in Bangor, said Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. granted the temporary restraining order at Bangor’s U.S. District Court. It was by agreement of all parties, including the town of Milbridge, while the issues around the moratorium are “sorted out.”
The order will remain in effect until a formal hearing is held in U.S. District Court in Bangor later this summer, likely in August.
Meanwhile, local residents are concerned that the lawsuit could put federal grants for local sewer projects in jeopardy and are circulating petitions to force another special town meeting to rescind the moratorium.
The petitions are expected to be presented to the Board of Selectmen at their 6 p.m. Thursday, July 9, meeting.
Mano en Mano is a nonprofit organization that serves the local Latino community.
Tomezsko said the six-unit housing project was planned for Wyman Road and would serve anyone who is a U.S. citizen and makes a certain percentage of their living from agriculture or aquaculture. A prospective tenant does not have to be Latino to qualify for the housing.