Milbridge sets special meeting for moratorium vote

Posted Sept. 16, 2009, at 9:07 p.m.

MILBRIDGE, Maine — Town selectmen voted Tuesday night to hold a special town meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, at the Milbridge Town Hall, to vote on the multifamily housing moratorium enacted in June.

The meeting is in response to a petition submitted earlier this summer requesting a townwide vote.

Mano en Mano, a local nonprofit organization that works with diverse populations in the area, was in the middle of planning and constructing a six-unit multifamily housing project that would provide low-income housing for farmworkers when the 180-day moratorium was enacted.

In 2008, Mano en Mano received a $1 million federal grant to build the first-ever, off-farm, farmworker housing in Maine. The 180-day moratorium, which came two years after Mano en Mano initiated the subdivision approval process, halted the project.

Many in Milbridge objected to the project, telling the Bangor Daily News that it would adversely affect their tax rates since the housing units would be nontaxable, and that the population that would move in would cost the community in services and take jobs away from those already living in Milbridge.

Town officials also said they needed time to enact appropriate zoning ordinances and building codes.

Mano en Mano subsequently sued Milbridge saying the moratorium was discriminatory. Director Anais Tomezsko said that since the community perception was that the housing would serve Latino workers, it violated civil rights.

Tomezsko said the housing would serve anyone who is a U.S. citizen and who 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, she said.

Milbridge Town Manager Lewis Pinkham said Wednesday that he had no idea how a vote to rescind the moratorium or amend it would affect the existing lawsuit.

Ed Bearor, the attorney for Mano en Mano, said Wednesday that a vote to rescind or amend the moratorium would negate the need for a court hearing scheduled in federal court in Bangor on Oct. 2. He said that action is an application for preliminary injunction and would include testimony and a ruling on whether the moratorium is discriminatory or not.

The warrant for the special town meeting has three articles, aside from electing a moderator.

The first would amend the moratorium to exclude the Mano en Mano project. The second would rescind the entire moratorium.

The third article is unrelated and would require all selectmen’s meetings to be held after 6 p.m. to allow for greater participation.

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