Caribou will hold symposium to address the city’s housing shortage

3 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine – With Maine facing a dire shortage of affordable housing, Caribou officials want to do their part to help draw more residents.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, city leaders will host the Caribou Housing Symposium at 6 p.m. at the Caribou Wellness & Recreation Center, 55 Bennett Drive. 

Caribou Planning Board and Development Committee member Dave Corriveau and community consultant Catherine Ingraham have been planning the symposium to bring together housing developers, contractors, landlords, residents and city officials to brainstorm stronger partnerships and initiatives for increasing Caribou’s housing stock.

A 2023 report found that Maine needs to nearly double its annual housing production through 2030 to fix historic underproduction and meet expected population growth.

Caribou had 7,741 residents as of July 2022, only a .7-percent increase from 7,396 in 2020, according to U.S. Census data, but a record number of new families to the city led to an unexpected population boom for Caribou Community School. Finished in 2020, the new pre-K to grade 8 school had 776 students as of September, instead of the originally projected 714 students.

But Caribou has never completed a formal survey of its housing situation, making it more difficult to plan for future growth, said City Manager Penny Thompson. The city might consider applying for grants to fund that type of study.

Caribou Planning Board Chairperson Amanda Jandreau supported that idea during a board meeting Thursday.

“We know we have a problem, but it would help developers to know what type of housing we need,” Jandreau said.

That’s one of many topics that Ingraham, Perham resident and owner of CEI Consultants, hopes to lead discussions on during Caribou’s housing symposium.

Ingraham’s work focuses on community engagement projects for Maine cities and towns. She most recently assisted with Fort Fairfield’s Community Empowerment Project and led a community visioning session for Caribou’s 2024 to 2034 comprehensive plan.

At the symposium, Ingraham will ask questions of community members that encourage them to discuss possible areas of the city that could be set aside for new housing, which local stakeholders can play a role in housing development and what incentives or partnerships could entice developers to build or expand in Caribou.

“This is the first opportunity to come together and think about how we can carry things through,” Ingraham said to the Planning Board.

Though everyone is invited to attend, the city has been sending special invitations to local developers, contractors and anyone within the housing sector, in hopes of spurring a broader conversation, Thompson said.

In other business, the Planning Board approved site design reviews for an expansion of Mi’kmaq Farms’ fish hatchery at 1353 Presque Isle Road and a community solar garden that Minnesota-based Novel Energy Solutions will build on Van Buren Road.

Jandreau abstained from voting on the fish hatchery because she is overseeing the project for Harriman Associates, the Auburn-based engineering firm in charge of the expansion.

Mi’kmaq Farms began raising Maine brook trout at its hatchery in 2015 and hit full capacity in 2018 with 50,000 fish. The current hatchery includes two 10 by 40 foot tanks but the larger new hatchery will have four 15 by 60 foot tanks. All tanks will be four feet deep, Jandreau said.

“Most of the fish are raised for local consumption and the demand has been increasing,” Jandreau said.

Novel Energy Solutions plans to construct a 2-megawatt solar array garden at 1212 Van Buren Road on .57 of 9 acres owned by Jonathan and Michelle Mishaan. Novel is leasing their portion of the land from the Mishaans.

The land surrounding the Mishanns’ home has never been used for agricultural purposes, said Jonathan Mishaan.

Novel Energy Solutions expects to start construction on the $2 million solar project in May 2025 and finish in September that year. 

Their solar garden will be the seventh within Caribou that allows clients to receive energy credits on their electric bills, Thompson said. Two other gardens are being constructed on Dow Siding Road and Ogren Road.

Before officially approving Novel Energy Solution’s plans, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the project during their next regular meeting on Thursday, March 14 at 6 p.m. All Planning Board meetings are held at Caribou Municipal Building, 25 High St.