Neighbors living near the corner of Maverick and Camden streets in Rockland voiced opposition to development of businesses and the traffic they might bring during a public meeting April 15 with the Comprehensive Planning Commission.

Members of the Comprehensive Planning Commission have been asked by the Rockland City Council to draft proposed zoning for the area along Camden Street from Maverick Street to Cedar Street. Zoning in that area became an issue in the past when Walgreens proposed to build on Maverick Square.

The commission members said it was their intention to protect the neighborhood from large-scale businesses that would increase vehicle traffic. They had spent a long time developing the proposed zoning, they said, with the hope of encouraging pedestrian traffic in the area and preserving the neighborhood feel. Small restaurants and some limited retail and other business development would be allowed in the new proposed Neighborhood Business Zone.

Residents who attended the meeting, however, questioned why even this limited development should be encouraged in a predominantly residential area. About 20 people attended the meeting.

George Lowander of Trinity Street said the commission had done the best job it could with the “plate of worms” the City Council had given it.

“If you keep up with this kind of development, it’s going to look like Route 1 in Brunswick,” he said.

Commission member Gerald Weinand took issue with that statement, arguing that the commission had specifically put provisions in place in the proposed zoning to prevent that kind of development scenario.

“This is exactly what we tried not to get into,” he said.

Lowander argued that whether the commission wants people to walk or not, they will drive because Americans do not walk unless they have lost their licenses. He said there are not enough pedestrians in the area to support businesses.

Adele Grossman Faber raised concerns about the size of potentially allowed restaurants in the zone. She said that while the zoning allowed 1,500-square-foot restaurants, it stated that size requirement did not include any size requirements for the food preparation areas, offices, restrooms and storage areas of the restaurants. It only seemed to address the dining area, she said. She said the limit in size should include the entire footprint of the restaurant, or a larger restaurant could be developed in the zone.

Commission member Frank Isganitis thanked her for bringing that to the commission’s attention and said the commission would revisit that issue. He said it would come together and look at the proposed zoning again with the public comments in mind.

The commission plans to present a draft of the proposed zoning to the Rockland City Council, possibly in May. The council will likely hold another public hearing on the matter after it votes on the first reading of the zoning, if it takes such a vote.

Members of the commission noted that they had done a survey before coming up with the proposed zoning, asking neighbors what they wanted.

Residents at the meeting questioned why business development had to grow into this residential neighborhood when there are houses on north Camden Street in a commercial zone that could be torn down in favor of new businesses. They also raised concerns about traffic and parking.

Isganitis said the plan had been to create a mini downtown for this neighborhood with walkable, small-scale uses.

Residents said the neighborhood is happy with things the way they are now. The commission said, however, that the residents were not happy with the Walgreens proposal, and this zoning could protect the neighborhood from future proposals.

One resident said that whenever a large chain company comes into the city, the city considers spot zoning or contract zoning for that chain. So what good is the new zoning, the resident asked.

City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson asked why churches, parks and community or civic uses were not allowed in the proposed zone.

Members of the commission said they had spent a long time going over every potential use. They said they had tried to avoid uses that would attract vehicle traffic.

Dickerson also expressed concern about historic houses in the area that might be gutted or destroyed in favor of small restaurants or businesses. And she said she was concerned about what this could do to tax rates and property values in the area, citing how commercial development on Camden Street involving big boxes had put pressure on residential property owners in that area.

Commission member Deborah Sealey said it wasn’t the commission’s job to look at that. The commission said that would be a matter for the assessment office.

The following uses would be permitted in this zone:

* First floor retail uses of up to 1,200 feet.
* First floor personal services.
* Artisan studios.
* Home occupations.
* Bed and breakfast establishments.
* Restaurants that are open no earlier than 7 a.m. and no later than 9 p.m. The maximum size for the restaurants would be 1,500 square feet. Drive-through restaurants would be prohibited.
* First floor financial services.
* Residential dwellings.
* Lodging houses that have 24-hour, on-site management.
* Daycare businesses.
* Limited offices.

There are two slightly different versions of the boundaries of the new zone. In one proposal, only the front of the lots facing Camden Street would be rezoned. In the other, the zone would stretch all the way to Jefferson Street for lots that extend that far.

On the east side of Camden Street, the zone would run from where the Mainway convenience store is located at the intersection of Front Street all the way north to the south side of Washington Street. On the opposite side of Camden Street, the zone would stretch from Maverick Street to Cedar Street. And on Maverick Street, the zone would run to the east side of Jefferson Street that includes the lots that had been considered for development by Walgreens.