ROCKPORT — The Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals voted Nov. 29 to deny the appeal brought against an affordable housing project planned for 6 Madelyn Lane off Route 1.

The project brought by Hope for the Future, LLC, will convert former medical offices at the location into 18 affordable apartments. It will also offer services including transportation and access to health care and food pantries.

A group of neighbors, mostly from Sea Light Lane, filed an appeal seeking to overturn the Planning Board’s July 28 approval of the project. Appealing the project were Elizabeth and Michael Hanley, Virginia Carboy, Katherine Killoran, Patrick Killoran, Timothy Killoran, Steven Levine, Hannah Lewis, Ryan Lewis, Marianne Linder, Anthony Muri, Janet Muri, Judith Rose, Lorraine Streat, and Philip Streat.

The Zoning Board found that the Planning Board did not err in its consideration of the project and its approval.

The neighbors had argued the project represents “congregate housing,” which is prohibited in that zone. However, the Zoning Board agreed that the Planning Board was doing its job correctly when it determined to approve this as residential multi-family housing.

Attorney and neighbor Anthony Muri said in the previous hearing it was “reasonable” to have a concern about safety, use, property protection and personal protection. He made a point of stating that the services for this housing project included Maine Behavioral Healthcare.

This was very similar to the wording of the appeal document, which stated, “One does not need to be an expert in homelessness to know that it is a problem frequently associated with drug and alcohol dependency, crime, and, in some cases, violence, among other problems.”

Hope for the Future, LLC is affiliated with the Knox County Homeless Coalition.

Zoning Board members on Nov. 29 said there was no provision for dealing with safety and security issues in the town’s Land Use Ordinance. They noted that the project had been signed off on by the Police Chief and Fire Chief.

The Camden Herald spoke to Knox County Homeless Coalition leaders including Executive Director Steph Primm and Board Chair Caroline Morong in August about the project. They noted the extent of the housing crisis, which is only getting worse. In Knox County, the median home price increased by 28% in 2021 alone, according to the coalition. The problem with affordable housing is also a problem for area businesses, which have been crying out about the lack of workers available.

However, the leadership said they recognize that projects like this create concern in the neighborhood. They stress this is not a shelter or even a handout, but a hand up to local people in need.

“They are strong and brave, not lazy and crazy,” the group said.

Obstacles to working families in the area include difficulty finding transportation or arranging child care and coping with inflexible work schedules that exacerbate these problems. Women leaving abusive situations also seek help. About 50% of those helped through the coalition’s efforts are children.

Through the Knox County Homeless Coalition, a team of 60 staff members work with as many as 759 individuals in a year to set housing goals for lasting stability, and there is a waiting list of 225 people who need services.

Those services are not just about putting a person in a room or a bed on any given night. The coalition provides case management, which means social workers or other professionals check on the wellbeing of the clients. People do not simply fall off the grid, but they have someone looking out for them.

The organization also helps connect people with a place to stay including beds at the Hospitality House in Rockport, the Landing Place for teens in Rockland, at hotels and motels, and in tents in some cases. They make sure those they work with have enough to eat, are safe and have appropriate health care as much as possible.

The group also creates opportunities for people to continue their educations or gain job skills for new careers.

They said there are concerns among the neighbors that they will be seeing people wandering around the area during the day or that there will be other problems. However, the leadership notes this would be home to the residents, and it would have strict rules that would be enforced. The days of people being turned out of the Hospitality House in Rockport by day are over, and that would not be an issue at the new facility.

If the project moves forward, they will fully renovate the buildings, which are still set up in the floor plan of the former medical practices. There will be the apartments, as well as office and shared program space. There will be a playground area for children.

The construction will be in two phases with the first building hopefully ready for occupants in early 2023.

Who might be living there? “It’s the person who serves you cappuccino at Zoot,” local leaders said.