June 20, 2018
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Orono panel recommends public hearing on student housing moratorium

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — A town subcommittee decided Wednesday to recommend that the full council hold a public hearing to get comment about a moratorium on student houses.

The town’s community development committee met to consider a proposal to define what a “student home” is and to enact a moratorium. But before members decided on how to proceed, they listened to the public voice opinions for and against the plan.

“I am definitely in favor of this motion,” Steven Colburn, who lives on Mainewood Avenue with his wife, Lisa, told the committee. “We have seen a number of single-family homes turn into rentals. One home that was particularly nice was trashed by the tenants … so it continues to be a rental property. We’re concerned very much about the quality of the homes declining.”

Sunrise Terrace resident Rick Pare said he moved to Orono specifically to be around University of Maine students, some of whom live directly across the street.

“That is why I moved here,” he said. “I am in favor of a public hearing so more people can state why we’re here.”

He also said he is a property manager and oversees the rental property adjacent to Colburn’s home that was referenced.

“You mentioned the trashing. It was a family that trashed it, and we have now put in two nice students,” Pare said.

Town Manager Sophie Wilson told the committee that since the term “student homes” is not defined, it also would need to be put on the books if the council decides to move forward on the moratorium. A student home is basically a single- or two-family home converted into student housing, she said.

The moratorium would allow town planners time to establish permitting rules and restrictions and to decide if they want to regulate student homes in zoning districts intended primarily for families, which is a recommendation from the comprehensive plan committee, said Town Planner Evan Richert.

Orono, like other college towns, is working to strike a balance between housing for students who live off campus and housing for families in established neighborhoods, he said.

The item will be on Monday’s Town Council agenda after the 7-1 committee vote.

University of Maine political science major Trey Stewart, vice president of the university’s student government, was at the meeting and said that rowdy students have been known to cause “a problem.”

“This is an issue that affects the students quite significantly,” he said. “I think it’s important to figure out a plan.”

He said after the meeting that he hopes more students will attend meetings on the issue.

Lisa Colburn said several homes on her street have changed from single-family to student housing and that “there is more and more ‘for sale’ signs going up. I feel the urgency. Our neighborhood will be overrun.”

For a draft of the proposal, visit orono.org/planning.


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