After some debate, City Councilors voted to give initial approval to new zoning regulations west of Old County Road in the rural part of the community Aug. 12.

A public hearing and final vote will be held Monday, Sept. 9.

The rural residential zone changes on the agenda for the meeting had been held over from an earlier meeting when the debate on the issue had been postponed. The original plans to include the Old County Road area in the zoning change had drawn fire from some residents concerned about new regulations and restrictions.

Councilor Frank Isganitis offered an amendment during the meeting, proposing a new Rural Residential 2 Zone (Click on Amended Zone below to view full document and map) in a large section of the city west of Old County Road. The area affected includes West Meadow Road. The city's Comprehensive Planning Commission has been working on the zone, which has the goal of protecting the rural, agricultural character of the area as well as protecting natural resources.

Permitted uses in the area under the new zoning would include farming, farm stands, riding stables, home occupations and bed and breakfasts. The new zoning changes the minimum lot size from one to two acres.

Prohibited in the new zoning will be drive-up windows, large wind turbine operations (though smaller windmills for powering farms or homes will be allowed as conditional uses) and flag lots.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson raised several concerns about the zoning, including that she felt it should go back to the Comprehensive Planning Commission before the council began amending it.

Isganitis argued he had already consulted with the commission chairman and other councilors noted it would go back to the commission between the first and second votes on the zoning.

Councilor Larry Prichett said the matter had already been postponed and it was time for the council to give some direction to the commission.

Dickerson also argued it was more important to deal with Old County Road, which will see increased pressure and traffic and possible development as a result of the new Wal-Mart superstore being built on Route 1 in Thomaston.

She also argued housing development was a more likely scenario than a dairy farm in this area of the city. Dickerson also said she lived in the area being discussed.

Councilor Eric Hebert also expressed concerns about the zoning, though he said he was willing to let it pass in the first reading. He said the lot sizes were too large and could create nonconforming properties because there are already smaller lots there.

He agreed with Dickerson that the larger issue was the Old County Road area.

As for the zoning before him, he said, "I don't see a lot of pro's or advantages to rezoning west of Old County Road, or any urgency."

In a prepared statement, Isganitis argued in favor of the zoning. "Doing nothing doesn't help us," he said. He also argued that zoning should be put in place before a project is proposed, rather than after.

The amended zoning was approved by a vote of 4-1 with Dickerson opposed. It still requires a second vote to be finalized.

In other business, the council voted 5-0 to approve $30,000 from the 2014 Tillson Ave. TIF District funds to support Rockland Main Street Inc. Councilors noted that Rockland Main Street has helped the city obtain grants for downtown improvements.

The council also voted to provide pay increases as cost of living adjustments for City Manager James Smith (up $2,460), City Attorney Kevin Beal (up $2,254) and City Clerk Stuart Sylvester (up $1,543). The money for the raises had been included in the recently passed city budget. The vote was 4-1 with Dickerson opposed.

Property tax rate set

The city property tax rate was set Aug. 12 at $19.52 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from $19.42 previously.

Finance Director Tom Luttrell said the rate was based on the proposed school budget, which went to the polls Aug. 13 for voter approval. He said the school usually has a budget by now and he was not sure how the city would handle it if the school budget fails. The city could not wait longer to set the rate, he said.

The tax rate breaks down as $9.73 going to schools, 90 cents to Knox County and $8.89 to the city for every $1,000 of property value.

Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 122 or