ROCKLAND — A proposal to increase the density of housing in much of the city remains stalled at the City Council.

The Council voted Monday, April 11, to postpone a final vote until May 9 on a proposal to reduce the minimum lot size per dwelling in a residential B zone from 5,000 square feet to 2,000 square feet per unit when there are two or more units on the lot and the property is connected to the public sewer system. The sponsor of the ordinance — Councilor Nate Davis — and Mayor Ed Glaser opposed the postponement.

The ordinance was first presented in February and gained unanimous preliminary approval, but since then the measure has languished in the face of questions from the comprehensive planning commission, an advisory committee for the council.

City Planner Rhett Lamb said the change would increase the density from eight units per acre to 15 or 16 per acre. Residential B is the most common residential zone in Rockland.

Davis said the many broad questions being asked will take years to answer. He said there is not a magic number for density. He reiterated the need for additional housing units is acute now. He said after the ordinance change is approved the zoning law can be amended after working with the comprehensive planning commission.

Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf said the Council needs to listen to its committees. Councilor Sarah Austin asked for satellite photos that would show the impact of increasing density in the residential B zones. The planner said that can be done.

Lamb said he is not sure if the committee can have clear questions ready by May 9 when the Council will consider the measure again.

The Council gave final approval April 11 to an ordinance that originally would have created a 200-square-foot minimum residential floor space requirement in all zones throughout Rockland. The revised ordinance that gained final approval eliminated minimum floor sizes but requires all dwellings must meet international building standards for living, kitchen, and sleeping facilities.

The Council gave final approval in March to an ordinance that would reduce the number of required off-street parking spaces for dwellings from two to one per unit. That change had been sought by developers.

The issue of encouraging more residential development statewide has also been debated at the state level.

The Maine House approved LD 2003 on April 14 by a 78 to 51 vote. The state Senate followed suit on April 15 on a 20 to 13 vote. The bill would allow the construction of duplexes and accessory dwelling units on single-family house lots. The bill now goes to Gov. Janet Mills.

The bill was watered down from the original version which opponents said would have stripped away local zoning authority.

State Reps. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, and Ann Matlack, D-St. George, voted for the final measure. Rep. William Pluecker, I-Warren, voted against the bill. In the Senate, David Miramant, D-Camden, Chip Curry, D-Belfast, and Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, voted for the bill.

Geiger pointed out she has been fighting to change zoning laws to allow more housing, smaller houses, and smaller lots since she was first elected to the City Council eight years ago.

“The crisis in housing has only gotten worse since then,” Geiger said.

The Rockland representative said the apartment vacancy rate is near zero percent, the median price of a home in Knox County is more than $350,000 which prices out most working class and middle class Mainers. The hospital is having trouble hiring nurses, certified nursing aides, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and other professionals due to a lack of housing. Teachers, firefighters, and public safety officers are all priced out of both rentals and home sales, she said.

“Maine is facing a bleak future without an increased workforce and there will not be one if we do not increase housing for the working and middle class,” Geiger concluded.

Miramant said while no first effort is perfect, “this (LD 2003) is a great start at helping solve a problem that is not going away without a concentrated effort.”

Matlack said, “People in our communities are finding it more and more difficult to find housing they can afford to buy. From young people ready to purchase their first home, to older people looking to downsize, to emergency responders, teachers and doctors, there is not enough reasonably priced housing on the market for them to purchase.

“This bill will allow more housing in areas where it is already permitted. Local regulations like setbacks, height restrictions, shoreland zoning and subdivision ordinances will still apply. This bill is the result of months of work by a bipartisan commission and it is the first step in addressing the housing problems we have here in Maine,” Matlack said.

Rep. Doudera said “I supported this bill because first-time home buyers, down-sizing older couples, and families of modest means in our area have all reached out to me because they cannot find rentals or homes to buy. The Camden Rotary did a very thorough needs assessment earlier in the year on this very issue and their data backed this up — moderately priced places to live are extremely scarce in Knox County. Businesses in our towns have also been in touch. When bank employees, town workers and new doctors at Pen Bay turn down jobs because they cannot find housing, our whole economy suffers. LD 2003 implements the recommendations of the bipartisan commission which considered zoning, land use, and other barriers to building housing, as well as suggestions from planners and municipalities across the state, and I believe its policies are sound and will help address our severe housing shortage.”