Editor's note: We received an unusually large number of letters this week, some dealing with the City Council's recent overhaul of city zoning to allow for smaller houses and setbacks. The council unexpectedly voted Monday night after these letters were received to rescind this zoning, so keep that in mind as you read to avoid confusion. See the front page story for the latest on this decision. To make room for all of these letters and a guest letter from Paula Sutton this week, some of the usual columns may not run, but they will be posted online at knox.villagesoup.com.


Editorial was demeaning to zoning opponents

The recent editorial in the Courier-Gazette was demeaning to those who actually studied Zoning Ordinance Amendment 48 and saw the radical changes incorporated within its pages. We were criticized for having an “overreaction.” I would say that the Courier had an underreaction. Instead of citing specifics, the editorial only includes generalizations. The reality is that there are many significant changes that Rockland residents should be concerned about. Lot sizes will be reduced as much as 63 percent, frontage 50 percent and setbacks 75percent. Smaller, more numerous lots and houses, all with driveways, will increase drainage issues for neighboring properties, one of many issues not addressed. In the AA zone Conditional Uses allowing bed and breakfasts, home occupations and businesses have been added for the first time as “Conditional Uses,” although without standards or actual conditions.

The most egregious change is the “tiny house” provision, replacing the current square footage minimums. The replacement states “per currently adopted Maine Residential Building Code for tiny houses.” In this new standard there is no minimum size stated. When a former Rockland administrator recently called the state, he was advised that 70 square feet (7 x 10 feet) would fulfill the requirements of a tiny house.

The editorial states that “Without changes to our overregulated zoning, we would face loss of neighborhoods.” This is an unfounded statement. When I moved to Rockland a junkyard and shooting range were allowed uses. Rockland, in part, has blossomed from its smart and thoughtful zoning. The editorial goes on to state that Rockland has become difficult to afford. My sister sold her house in Rockland 10 years ago. After many improvements, it sold recently for only 10 percent more, not a huge increase in a 10-year period. I think we should be more interested in encouraging apartment buildings to be built. Many people would rather rent than own.

The Courier suggests that ordinances and zoning be “tweaked in the future.” The council should “tweak” the current ordinances and zoning instead of implementing a radical overhaul of the entire zoning ordinances? Also, the council, under state law, must adhere to the Rockland Comprehensive Plan, which demonstrates a more thoughtful, sensitive and incremental approach to zoning and infill. There is merit to some of the proposed changes, such as accessory apartments.

For the majority of Rockland residents, our homes and neighborhoods are our most important investment. It’s insulting to tell us “give the council’s plan a chance and see how it works out.” I’m not much of a gambler, and I don’t think most Rockland residents are when asked to risk the value of their homes and the wonderful neighborhoods we live in.

I urge you to sign the petition in order to allow the people of Rockland to decide for themselves, rather than three council members, whether or not to vote to override these sweeping zoning changes. This is democracy at work.

Erik V. Laustsen

Chair, Rockland Planning Board

Disgruntled by zoning changes

Speaking in public is something that I absolutely hate! When a topic is close to my heart I will, which I did, along with many others. My husband and I were born, raised, stayed, bought a house in Rockland and even have our burial plot at Achorn Cemetery. Needless to say, we aren't going anywhere.

I grew up in a house by the dump and he grew up downtown living in an apartment. Sliding for me was on Pete Edwards' field and for my husband, Grace Street was closed off so that the street's hill was their sliding area. I'm sure that many neighborhoods had different sliding hills.

When we bought our house 37 years ago, we knew what we wanted and what neighborhoods didn't allow what we wanted. Spitting off our back doorstep is possible without hitting a neighbor's house and the neighbor not hitting ours. That's what we wanted and what we're zoned for. But now, if the council has its way, a citywide rezoning?

If a family needs to bring a hardship case to the council for approval so that a family member can live their last years comfortably in their home, then do it on a one-on-one case. This new setback zoning to allow tiny houses and goodness knows what else shouldn't be allowed.

While standing there speaking my concerns with the public that night, I was totally amazed. Were they listening? All straight, expressionless faces just staring. No note-taking. It must be me, no wonder I hate speaking in public. But you know what? It wasn't me. Everyone got the same. Were they now better then us citizens, us natives, ones who got them in their seat? An acknowledgement from each one would have been nice.

First impressions are important, as well as last ones. When the final vote came down most of us got up and chit-chatted while leaving. One of the councilors suggested a five-minute break and immediately a woman councilor's voice says "No, they're adults; they can leave quietly." What a shame she finally decided to speak to us and used those words. Let's hope the council finds heart this Valentine's Day.

Four voices on the council shouldn't have their own agenda when so many citizens have their concerns. Sign the petition that's going around, there's one at City Hall. You'll have to ask to sign it, but please do. Let's get this to a public vote. It's our city, too!

Rebecca A. Lothrop


Trying out zoning changes is too risky

In response to your Feb. 7 editorial in favor of Ordinance 48, and as the Rockland resident who filed the lawsuit to stop Ordinance 48, the lawsuit and citizens referendum are hardly overreactions to stunning zoning changes that totally violate the city’s Comprehensive Plan. It’s disappointing to see the Courier taking sides after speaking with an individual obsessed with tiny houses and who has no regard for their consequences to thousands of residents.

Instead of a one-sided editorial, why not encourage Rockland’s residents to require a citywide vote on Ordinance 48 to see if this is what they want? Remember, the vote was 3-1 to change the entire city’s zoning in one fell swoop. At the council’s meeting Feb. 4, residents were told that this issue had been discussed for three years and there should be no surprises. Ask any of the 19 people gathering signatures for a citywide referendum and they will tell you the vast majority of people approached didn’t even know about it. It’s no wonder — you couldn’t even find it anywhere on the city’s voluminous website. Who are the privileged people who knew about this?

Your one-sided editorial sadly glosses over the resulting changes caused by tiny house Infill to the character of our neighborhoods and the loss in home values to thousands of Rockland’s residents — all based on the supposition that young millennials and professionals need cheap housing and want to walk everywhere.

I can hear residents in Midcoast towns and cities saying “Rockland’s a great little city — a working waterfront, many excellent restaurants and art museums to visit — but don’t buy a house there, because you’ll never know what will be built next to you.”

Giving Ordinance 48 a chance is a risky experiment that can’t easily be reversed, as your editorial suggests. In 10 years, when tiny houses have drastically changed Rockland’s landscape and the character of its neighborhoods, and the city’s property values and tax base have declined, then what? Will there be an editorial “Ordinance 48 Fails,” recommending that tiny houses be torn down and replaced with trees and grass? That’s called being environmentally friendly.

Jim Ebbert


Residents should vote on Rockland zoning changes

This letter is in response to your editorial of Feb. 7 entitled "Give new zoning a chance," referring to the protean changes to Rockland's zoning ordinances voted in by a trio of councilors. Indeed, it is also to your video interview with Councilor Valli Geiger on Village Soup that you reference. You express a gamut of opinions on the subject, but lack supporting statistics. Speaking from my own experience — granted, anecdotally (but no less valid than unstatistically supported anecdotes provided by Geiger in that interview) — being myself a senior citizen, I can't understand how "creating small buildings" could enhance living quality for the aged with disabilities and perhaps in need of bulky, awkward ancillary support apparatuses. Sadly, I'd see it as an isolating factor of lonely aging.

You mention a shortage in the city of affordable housing and rentals, specifying "young professionals and millennials." I live in a Victorian duplex in a "desirable" neighborhood. We have in the past rented to families, couples, solitaries and three or four unrelated young people. Yet during this time of "shortage" it has stood unrented for three months so far.

So much for anecdotes. We were never approached by anyone on the committee (appointed by the councilors' trio) to ask for any input.

My concern has been, as stated in my previous letter to the Courier-Gazette, the aging 19th-century infrastructure of the city, in particular the sewage collecting system and the myriad private waste drainage connections; also, the surface stormwater system —  the Lindsey Brook. On Jan. 24, my backyard was under water. There is small doubt that the deluge was contaminated by waste from infiltrating sewer mains. Flooded basements may well have shared in this dismal event. What effect may "infill" have on this? Would you prefer a tiny house versus a houseboat? Have the trio any answers? I haven't heard them!

There is another grave concern expressed by many city taxpayers, and that is about process. Democracy is a slow, ungainly system given to discussion, debate and, eventually, compromise. The key is educating the citizenry and respecting the majority's opinion. There's a disquieting suspicion that this whole matter has been unnecessarily rushed and all its ramifications haven't been fully explored. To me, the referendum petition and lawsuit are to allow time for discussion — all sides publicly heard — then a citizen's referendum, the result of which will settle the immediate issue.

Referenda are very democratic. Why not give that a chance?

Christopher F. Manning


City needs a do-over on zoning overhaul

Many on the Rockland City Council who recently moved to Rockland seem to resent my questioning their assumptions. Before I retired, while maintaining a full-time legal practice, I served as chairman of the school board, attorney for the city of Rockland and judge of probate for Knox County.

In all those positions, facts and citing law were of utmost importance.

Assumptions were always questioned, and no one was shut out of the process.

The law in the state of Maine is the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated, or MRSA.

MRSA Title 30-A Section 4325 is the law entitled Zoning Ordinances.

“#1 Public participation required.

The public shall be given an adequate opportunity to be heard in the preparation of a zoning ordinance. “

“#2 Relation to Comprehensive Plan.

A zoning ordinance must be pursuant to and consistent with a Comprehensive Plan adopted by the municipal legislative body.”

On Dec. 27, 2018, The Comprehensive Planning Commission sent a memorandum to the mayor and the city councilors:

“The Comprehensive Planning Commission recommends postponing the vote on Ordinance Amendment #48," saying “Although it encourages infill development, it is very specific to which zones and repeatedly mentions 'infill which reflects the existing character of the neighborhood.'"

No one has explained the justification for this one-size-fits-all plan. For example, in Residential AA zones, Residential A zones, and Residential B zones, the front setback is reduced to 10 feet for all. It was reduced from 35 feet in AA, 25 feet in A, and 15 feet in B. The rear setback is reduced to 8 feet for all. It was reduced from 25 feet in AA, 25 feet in A, and 20 feet in B zone. The Rural Residential zone was changed significantly as well.

Three councilors voted for this. One was opposed. One was absent.

No city planner was hired or involved. Four members of the tiny house committee drafted this Ordinance, along with Mayor Lisa Westkaemper, who chaired the committee.

It is time to start over with public participation, advice of a city planner and adherence to the Comprehensive Plan. It is not something to try to see if it works.

Barry M. Faber


Sutton is not a racist

I have known Paula Sutton for eight years and in all that time I have never seen or heard any racist comments or actions from her. She is truly someone who does not judge someone “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Clearly, those who call her names do not know her history and what she has actually done in her life.

Did you know that she taught children reading, writing and math at a dirt-floored, corrugated-tin-roofed, open-air school in the jungles of Belize? Did you know that she took these children on field trips and paid for supplies, clothing and food from her own pocket? Did you know that parents gave her gifts of honey and chicken in gratitude for her work with their children? Did you know that none of the money needed to support this program came from official funding; it was all donated by loving volunteers like Paula? Did you know that she was teaching these children so that their parents, who were subsistence farmers, would not be cheated when they sold their product at market? Paula loved every minute working with these children, and you can see it in her eyes as she talks about her time in Belize.

If you read Paula’s article honestly you would note that she is only concerned with illegal aliens; it doesn’t matter the color of their skin, the country of their origin, or the money in their pockets. What matters is that they destroy the life, property and freedom of others. Paula Sutton fights so that all people can enjoy the American dream, not just those who meet some progressive identity criteria. The hatred spewed against her is irrational and dishonest.

Victoria Bucklin


Shellfish bills could endanger industry

Down East Institute of Maine has gone from a respected research group to an advocacy group for its own interests. It is now a joke in the shellfish world. After a cold reception from the Maine Shellfish Advisory Council with its ideas, DEI has teamed up with the last five members of the Maine Clammers Association to try to force laws on the clammers of Maine.

These bills have the potential to crash the shellfish industry. Don’t worry, DEI will still get paid. I encourage all shellfish towns to research each of these many bills, as some even come from Lewiston..(That’s funny, never dug Lewiston.) Here’s a thought, If you have to put a law on to put yourself on a committee, maybe they don’t want you there?

Good people of Maine, if you really want to know what’s going on in a fishing industry, please don’t ask a scientist, ask a fisherman.

Glen Melvin


One recovering addict's life touched a community

Ryan Gamage touched many lives. As his family wrote in his obituary, “For those who knew him and accepted him as he was, there is a void in the lives of those people that simply will never be replaced. Addiction took many things from Ryan over the years, but never his love of family. Ryan was blessed with a family that accepted his faults, no matter what, and had an unconditional love for him, a love that few like him can say they had. He truly only ever wanted his family to love him, and love him they did. Even on his very worst days, if a family member needed him, he did everything he could to not let them down. His countless friends were blessed with that same dedication.”

I only knew Ryan for a very short time, but he touched my life and the lives of all the men in recovery living at The Friends House, a recovery residence that Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition opened last summer in Rockland. He was always helpful and supportive of The Friends House, donating time, labor, furniture and supplies to help it get off the ground. He also wanted to build a stair tower, needed to meet the fire code requirements, which would allow eight more good men a chance for meaningful recovery. This tower, now under construction will be dedicated in his name and his memory, and will help more men benefit from safe, sober and supportive housing, so important for many in recovery. It is a tower he wanted to build and, in a way, he will still help to build it by inspiring the community to support its construction.

When he lost his own battle with addiction, dying of an overdose Jan. 6, he left in his wake so many lives that he touched so dearly, that the number cannot be counted. In fact, he has touched every life in our community directly or indirectly. For those who knew him, they would know that he would want whatever good could come from this tragedy. His struggle, his fight, his love of others, his dedication to the cause of recovery and the fact that so many loved him should remain a lasting memory and a dedication to him, as a true hero.

Truly, the greatest good we can attain in the wake of his tragic loss would be to recognize the reality that the widespread addiction epidemic in our community affects all of us and requires all of us to help in some way to rescue more precious lives from needless daily suffering and from untimely deaths. We all need to pitch in somehow to make this a better place that endures for each and every one of us. The loss of a great man like Ryan should, and can, inspire all of us to come together as a community to support recovery. Let us not miss this opportunity. Let’s not briefly reflect on another sad statistic and then to go about our days as if nothing were wrong. It is time we stop this madness. Please join with us for the health of our community.

Details will be announced in the newspapers, Facebook, email announcements and on the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition website (midcoastrecovery.org) soon about how community members can support the dedication and completion of the Ryan Gamage Stairway to Recovery. A community fundraising pancake breakfast is planned, as part of honoring his memory, Saturday, March 2, from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Rockland Congregational Church, 180 Limerock St. Announcements of more community meetings will follow to help the community respond in a lasting way to make it a better place for everyone. Please join us for as many events as you can.

For more information about“The Friends House and The Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition, visit https://midcoastrecovery.org/the-friends-house/ or call 701-1182.

Ira Mandel

President, Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition


Appreciation of Wick Skinner

Georges River Land Trust lost a quiet, influential and important community member last week, Wickham Skinner. Wick’s resume was a long one of excellence in teaching, corporate governance and community involvement, and will, we know, be celebrated in his obituary and memorial service. We just want to express our appreciation for our relationship with this modest, genuine and honest friend who did so much within this community for so many organizations, including ours.

Wick worked with us over a period of 25 years as a mentor and a champion of our conservation efforts. He was always generous with his time and pondered questions asked him with his open intellect and experience as a listener. He delivered advice with a personal caring and grace that were always taken to heart by us because we knew he cared deeply. Wick acted upon his beliefs with certainty, and put a large piece of his beautiful land in a conservation easement to help protect forever a stretch of our treasured St. George River. We will miss Wick.

John Hufnagel

Vice chair, board of directors

Georges River Land Trust