A divided Rockland City Council voted to postpone consideration of a height limit on buildings in part of Rockland's downtown, but gave initial approval to a moratorium on buildings more than 50 feet tall in the South End July 14.

The council held a public hearing and final reading on an ordinance amendment sponsored by Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson that would limit buildings to a maximum height of 50 feet or four stories in the downtown south of Park Street.

Dickerson moved passage on the amendment, and the floor was turned over to Councilor Frank Isganitis. As Isganitis was starting to speak, Dickerson said, "I move the question."

Dickerson argued that her moving the question trumped what Isganitis was going to do, but Mayor Larry Pritchett and City Clerk Stuart Sylvester said Isganitis had the floor at that point, so she could not make the motion.

Isganitis proceeded to move to postpone until February to give the council six months to study the issue.

Dickerson asked if he supported the six-month moratorium on building projects of more than 50 feet in height, which was proposed by the city's Comprehensive Planning Commission. He said he did not support the moratorium.

Dickerson argued that if the council was going to postpone the height limit, it should support the moratorium.

She said it has been an unfortunate process that has left the citizens divided, but she felt giving it six months might bring people together. She said it is important for a political body and city staff to maintain "agnostic engagement" with the issue and that, too often, the citizens are at odds with the council or feel helpless to protect their quality of life and sense of place.

Isganitis argued the existing 65-foot height limit has been in place for 30 years.

The council voted 3-2 to postpone the height limit ordinance with Dickerson and Louise MacLellan-Ruf opposed to the postponement. Isganitis, Pritchett and Eric Hebert supported it.

The Comprehensive Planning Commission had recommended the council not act on the ordinance and recommended a six-month moratorium on new applications for new and expanded buildings exceeding 50 feet in height in the downtown zone south of Park Street. Pritchett describes the area in question as "the two blocks bounded by Union, Pleasant, Main and Park Streets plus the properties along Main Street and Park Drive that abut Harbor Park."

The council voted 3-2 to give initial approval to an ordinance for the moratorium, and will have to finalize it at a later meeting. In this case, Hebert and Isganitis were opposed to the motion.

Isganitis argued the 65-foot horse was already out of the barn, referring to the five-story hotel that has already been approved in the South End. He and Hebert expressed concern that this sends the message that Rockland is not open to new development.

Pritchett disagreed. He noted this will affect about one city block.

In other business

The council voted 3-2 to approve in final reading an ordinance amendment establishing a pay-per-bag system for disposal of municipal solid waste (trash). MacLellan-Ruf and Dickerson opposed the ordinance.

Dickerson said she has always promoted recycling, taking care of the environment and limiting trash, but said she opposed this because the citizens of Rockland feel pushed up against a wall with property taxes and other rising costs for services.

Hebert argued this is the fairest way to pay for the disposal of trash.

As of May 2, 2015, residents will have to buy special bags from the city to dispose of household trash or pay by the ton, rather than buying dump sticker for their vehicles.

Dickerson pointed out the city is spending $6,000 to buy the plastic bags for the program.

Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.