The Limington Free Press
The People of Limington's On-Line Newspaper for News and Opinion
June 8, 2000     Volume 1 Number 10     Index

Comment Period Kept Secret
on Low-Income Housing Project

Also related to this story and in this issue:
Time Line of Events
Income Guidelines
Planning Board Member resigns in protest

In the last issue:
SAD 6 Bans Cell Phones
Election Day is Tuesday June 13th
Cable Company Releases List of Roads

Jump to the June 28th edition

The Secrets Behind the Politics, Planning Board, and Low Income Housing Project Coming to Limington...

Secrecy and Actions of Town Officials lead to subsidy for 20 new low-income apartments in Limington.  Selectman worries about increased crime and residents worry about local impact.

by Dick Jarrett

Ralph Libby Letter
Ralph Libby Letter
    Due partially to an extremely encouraging letter from former Planning Board Chairman Ralph Libby, the Maine State Housing Authority has pledged $740,000 in housing credit subsidies to help develop 20 new low-income family rental apartments on Route 25 in Limington.  Ralph Libby declared that the proposed site was very suitable for such housing as it is close to the post office, market, town hall, playground, and the elementary school and that Limington definitely needs such rental housing.  A limited partnership (L.P.) named Webster Mill Associates was recently established which applied to the Maine State Housing Authority under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.  Mr. Libby's letter was submitted to support that application.

    The proposal is for a mix of four family and two family buildings on an 18 acre site on Route 25 currently owned by John Blake and Gerald Blake.  Although York-Cumberland Housing with Development Officer Genie Nakell is listed as the "General Partner" of the Webster Mill Associates limited partnership, the other partners were not specified and may be named later as the project progresses.  The Blake family has long been associated with the original Webster Mill from which this project derives its name.

    The Maine State Housing Authority also had asked the Town of Limington to comment on the proposal and specifically welcomed remarks about the local reaction to the project.  Unfortunately, local reaction was limited to rumors at the store and no local opinion, either positive or negative, was submitted to the agency since no announcement was made, no advertisement was published, and no hearings were held by the Selectmen.  Instead, following the March 16th Selectmen's meeting, Selectwoman Kathleen Maddocks submitted a forceful letter to John Egan of the Maine State Housing Authority strongly opposing the project in which she detailed the reasons why the project should not be approved.  This letter was somewhat negated by the fact that on the very same day, Ms. Maddocks sent an enthusiastic letter of support to Genie Nakell for a different 24-unit apartment complex for elderly housing.  This second letter was later submitted by Ms. Nakell to aid in the approval of the 20-unit low-income family housing project since both the family and elderly housing are considered low-income, albeit for different populations.

    Further negating Selectwoman Maddock's single letter of opposition, Webster Mill Associates also quoted selected sections of Limington's 1997 Comprehensive Plan which mentioned allowing multi-family housing in the Commercial District.

    At least eleven applications from around the state were scored by the Maine State Housing Authority so that the agency could determine which projects should receive funding.  Since only a limited amount of funds are available, only a few of the projects will be built.  The evaluation committee of the Maine State Housing Authority weighed all of the public comment, application data, and population reports and compared the various projects which were competing for the funds.  On May 9th, the Maine State Housing Authority announced the four project winners, including the Limington project which was for the $740,000 in housing credits.

    The total project costs for the 20 units is expected to be $1,959,842.  The developer has submitted an application to Rural Development for $1,000,000 and plans to submit an application to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program for an additional $120,000 in grant funds.

Webster Mill Place
Preliminary site plan for Webster Mill Place

Who are the Winners and Losers in this plan?

    Although lame-duck Senator Jim Libby endorses the Limington project with no reservations, many people feel that the new low-income family housing project will have a negative effect on the town and the school system.  Limington's H. B. Emery School is already crowded into portable classrooms and the 20 new families and the children that this project will bring will not help matters any.

    The Town's growth ordinance limits the number of new dwellings to 35 per year.  When this project takes the required 20 dwelling permits, this means that only 15 permits will be available for the adult children of current residents who want to build their homes here.

    Selectman Herbert Ramsdell openly wonders what the effect on the crime rate will be since Limington already has one of the highest crime rates in the region.

    And since many of the residents of the project will move from other towns, Limington's public assistance program may have to be expanded.  In 1997, each new traditional dwelling in Limington cost the town an average of $1,126 in services.  On the average even with these traditional homes, each new home requires more in services than it returns in tax revenue.  Generally, the higher the value of the home and the fewer the number of children, the less the impact will be on taxes.  Therefore many fear that this project will raise the taxes for the existing residents.

    Neighboring property owners also worry about the effect on the re-sale value of their own homes.

    Who will be the primary beneficiaries?
    The current landowners, John and Gerald Blake, do get to sell their property.  But if the property was on the market for long, not many people knew about it.  Except for a whirlwind 48 hour period in which the neighbors were offered the land if they could raise the money, many of the neighbors did not even know that the land was for sale.  The unknown limited partners in the venture will also benefit.  And the tight Portland low-income rental market will find some relief when people on waiting lists from the Portland and Sanford area are moved into Limington.  People who support the project use the code word "affordable housing" rather than the "low-income housing" name which is the program under which funding has been obtained.

What this project is not...

    This project is not an elderly housing project.  While there is no prohibition for a low-income elderly resident to live in one of the 3 one-bedroom apartments in the complex, the apartments are intended for low-income families and it will be low-income families who will be the primary residents.

    There is some confusion in town because there exists a separate elderly housing proposal on Route 11.  The same development corporation is spearheading that project but funding has yet to be obtained.


    What remains unexplained is why Planning Board Chairman Ralph Libby would declare in his official capacity that the selected site is "very suitable" without any Planning Board review or even notification of his action.  This project is not mentioned in the Planning Board minutes and no announcement was made to the Board of this finding or even that a letter was sent out.  The finding could present problems for the Town if, after Planning Board review, the full Board discovers any flaws in the proposal.  In addition, issuing such an opinion appears to contradict the legal advice given to the Board by Town Attorney Jim Haddow.  In Mr. Haddow's legal primer for the Board, he states with specific emphasis "MEMBERS OF THE BOARD SHOULD NOT SUPPLY FROM THEIR OWN PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OR BASED ON THEIR OWN PROFESSIONAL EXPERTISE, EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT AN APPLICANT'S REQUIRED SHOWING." What is even more disturbing is that there may be other communications for which the Town and the Board have no record.  When asked if copies of letters to and from Ms. Nakell could be obtained under the Freedom or Information Act, Mr. Libby replied that "there is no freedom here" and that all copies in his possession had been destroyed.  State Law declares that such correspondence is a public record and requires that such papers be preserved.  Complicating the issue is that Mr. Libby is a "lame duck" member in that he is moving from Limington so that he will be leaving the Board.  The February 16th letter to the developer only came into public view because the developer submitted it as part of the application to the Maine State Housing Authority.

    This is not the first time that a former Planning Board chairman has been embroiled in a controversy immediately before moving out of town.  When the town owned land in South Limington was first proposed for sale, former Planning Board Chairman Owens McCullough generously prepared detailed maps for the selectmen at no charge to the town.  Coincidentally, after the White Brothers purchased that land from the Town, his firm was hired to prepare maps and the site plan for the gravel extraction project.  He then moved to the other side of the Planning Board table and represented the company before the Board.  That gravel pit issue polarized the townspeople.  Several residents maintained that the operating gravel pit lowered the property values for the 50 houses in Coventry North by at least $4,000 each.  Since the Town only netted a little over $200,000 for the sale of the land, they felt with bitterness that the proceeds were really just a special "tax" imposed on these particular homeowners.  The proceeds were then used so that the Town could build the new Municipal complex.  Supporting the assertion that property values were lowered, several people have said that Mr. McCullough sold his home in Coventry North at a net loss even though many improvements were made to the house.

    The continuing gravel pit controversy also resulted in a severe scolding of the entire Planning Board by a member of the prestigious Portland law firm Pierce Atwood.  Attorney Helen Edmonds chastised the Board in a public hearing for the practice of the members of discussing substantial Planning Board issues outside of an official board meeting.  Such "ex parte communication" is unfair to both the applicant and to the public.  These discussions can lead to the overturning of Board decisions and are a violation of the Maine open meeting and right to know laws.

So What is Wrong with this Picture?

    There are two levels of public review for this project.  The first level is the actual public funding and input into the project make-up.  Since these projects depend upon public funds and are administered by public agencies, the public has a right to comment during the review.  This particular review was a competitive review where only the highest scoring proposals were approved.  The second level of review is the Planning Board review which concentrates on technical issues such as lot sizes, subdivision requirements, and environmental impacts.  Unfortunately the first level of review has already occurred and that phase of the project has been approved with no public input into the process.  It is at this level when most residents would have liked to comment, both in favor and against the proposal.  Many people would have liked to express their opinions on the make up of the proposed client income levels, on the suitability of the general location, on the potential financial impacts on the Town, on the impact on the school system, and on the desirability of the project in general.  However, since the project details, deadlines, and contact information were kept secret from the townspeople, there was absolutely no input from the general public submitted to the Maine State Housing Authority.  Only the developer, the developer's consultants, and certain elected officials who knew about the project provided comments.

    While the Maine State Housing Authority does not require that a public hearing be held, they do notify the towns and ask for public input.  This notification was not passed on to the townspeople or even to the Planning Board members by the town government.  By not soliciting public input, a disservice has been done to everyone involved.  Public acceptance of such a controversial public project can only occur if the townspeople have a say in the process.  And without public input, the project will be inferior to what it could have been.  Finally since the public comment was bypassed in the first phase of review, the only recourse of people who are unhappy with the project as proposed will be to throw up roadblocks during the second phase of review: the Planning Board review.  In the long run, this secrecy will cost everyone more money, time, and effort plus the resultant project will less desirable than one that has public input and support.

Time Line:

Date unknownNegotiations begin between the Blake family and York-Cumberland Housing Development Corporation.
February 9, 2000Purchase and sale agreement for $71,662 is signed between York-Cumberland Housing and John and Gerald Blake.  Actual sale is contingent on funding and Planning Board approval.
Dates unknownGenie Nakell of York-Cumberland Housing Development Corporation contacts Planning Board Chairman Ralph Libby and the Limington Selectpersons and describes her interest in developing low-income family rental housing in Limington on the Blake parcel.
February 16, 2000  Planning Board Chairman Ralph Libby submits letter of support for the project to Genie Nakell
February 17, 2000State Senator Jim Libby submits letter of support for the project to Genie Nakell.
February 25, 2000Webster Mill Associates, L.P. is established with York-Cumberland Housing as the General Partner.  Genie Nakell is the main contact person.  Other partners are unknown.
February 25, 2000Webster Mill Associates, L.P. submits application to Maine State Housing Authority.
March 1, 2000Deadline for applications.
March 15, 2000Maine State Housing Authority asks the Town of Limington for comments on the Webster Mill Place application.
March 16, 2000Selectpersons discuss both low-income family housing and elderly housing projects.
March 23, 2000Selectwoman Kathy Maddocks writes a letter to John Egan of the Maine State Housing Authority opposing the low-income family housing project.  She also writes a letter of support to Genie Nakell for the elderly housing project.
April 27, 2000Genie Nakell submits to the Maine State Housing Authority the letter of support authored by Kathy Maddocks for elderly housing to support the low income family project and to point out contradictions between comments in the two letters.
May 2, 2000Genie Nakell submits excerpts from Limington's Comprehensive Plan with the notation that the Comprehensive Plan is contrary to Kathy Maddock's letter of opposition.
May 9, 2000Maine State Housing Authority announces that the Limington Project plus three other projects are to receive funding.
May 24, 2000Purchase option is extended to September 30, 2000.
The Following Dates and Events are Anticipated by the Developer
July 2000Submission to Limington Planning Board
August 2000Second meeting with Limington Planning Board
August 2000Issue construction bids
September 2000Construction start
June 2001Construction complete
December 2001Sustained Occupancy

Income Guidelines:

1 person household2 person household3 person household4 person household
First Six apartments:
$0 - $9,960$0 - $11,370$0 - $12,810$0 - $14,220
Next Six apartments:
Max eligibility
Last Eight apartments:
Priority given /
Max eligibility
< $16,600
< $18,950
< $21,350
< $23,700

In addition to the above income guidelines, four of the above 20 apartments will be reserved for the homeless.  York-Cumberland Housing Management Corporation will develop an Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan using its extensive list of outreach links, including Preble Street Resource Center, York County Community Action, and local newspapers.

There will be 10 three-bedroom apartments, 7 two-bedroom apartments, and 3 one-bedroom apartments.

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Planning Board Member resigns in Protest


June 8, 2000

Dear Fellow Members of the Planning Board,

As you may be aware, I have been a member of the Limington Planning Board for the past five plus years and my term expires next March.  My main purpose for running for the Planning Board was to serve the public interest; I started the website with the same intention.  I feel that only an informed public can make intelligent decisions and that public availability of information has long been a problem in Limington.  To date, issues covered in the Limington Free Press have only concerned topics where there was no active applicant before the board.  I have covered past Planning Board decisions as well as current public policy decisions but have refrained, other than publishing the minutes of past meetings, from presenting information where the information could affect the rights of an active applicant before the Board.

I am sure that you have all heard about the press release from the Maine State Housing Authority about the funding approval for the low-income housing project that has been slated for Limington.  Although I was told last week that some public information was being requested from the Maine State Housing Authority, I had not planned even to view the papers unless they were presented at a Planning Board meeting because I felt that they might influence my future Planning Board decisions on an application that would soon be before the board.  However, after I was told of the serious nature of the material, I decided to examine the material even if it meant that I would have to excuse myself from the particular issue.

Having read the material that makes up the application to the Maine State Housing Authority, I have come to the conclusion that there exists far more information that should be made public and that in taking a hands off approach I may be doing a disservice to the community.  The Planning Board and the Office of the Selectpersons have not been open about disseminating public information that should have been promptly and prominently brought to the attention of the people of Limington.

I take my responsibilities as a citizen and my oath of office to serve the public interest, the Constitution, and the resultant laws very seriously.  I also take seriously my duties as a Planning Board member.  At this point, these two separate facets of the Planning Board oath of office seem contradictory.  A Planning Board member can only weigh the public information on an application that is presented to him or her during a public meeting and then use his or her experience and knowledge of the law to reach a decision.  However, such a decision may be flawed if pertinent public information is being consistently withheld by other public officials.  Furthermore, if a Board member, such as myself, undertakes an independent investigation so that additional facts are revealed, ethically that Board member must excuse him or herself from the deliberations and the decision.  It would not be fair to applicants before the Board if I pick and choose which applications are worthy of independent investigation and a musical chairs scenario of hearing some applications and excusing myself on others results.

Therefore, in protest of this withholding of public information, I hereby resign my position as Planning Board member.  I will however continue to serve the Town by continuing to advocate for the release and publication of public information.  I also plan to take an active role as a member of the public in reviewing Planning Board and Selectmen issues.  I will continue my work with and the Limington Free Press in service to the community.

I remain sincerely,

Richard Jarrett

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