Courier-Gazette Letters to the Editor Feb. 18

Feb 19, 2021

The need to focus on elderly affordable housing

I am writing to address intertwined issues regarding Rockland city council’s proposed zoning ordinance changes they are considering. Proposed housing structures and the effects of water runoffs from new structures’ impermeable surfaces onto abutting properties are issues I have ask council to consider in their pending legislation.

For some years now, the city council’s focus on affordable housing in Rockland has primarily concentrated on the affordable housing needs of the younger demographic and short-term rentals.

While diverse residents have housing needs, affordable and accessible housing for our city’s elderly residents is a social justice issue the council has not addressed, either through oversight or unconscious ageism.

Affordable, accessible housing for Rockland’s seniors is an issue of inequality that also deserves a voice at the table.

If the council does not require safe, affordable and accessible new structures of stand alone buildings of 425 – 800 square feet or existing structures or accessory apartments that would meet the mobility and self-care needs of Rockland’s ageing population, that demographic will be effectively shut out of those housing options. (See The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University: jchs.harvard.edu.)

Additionally, stand-alone structures of 425 – 800 square feet would be too small to accommodate families who are in need of affordable housing.

So, what demographic does council have in mind for those small buildings?

Homeowners, who decide to have these small structures built on their land, will want the highest returns on their investments. Therefore, the council’s legislation may have the unintended consequence of limiting affordable housing for residents and greatly expanding the highly competitive short-term rental market in Rockland. Portland and Rockport are already embroiled in this controversy.

Future housing units, be they stand-alones or accessory housing, are more rental opportunities for traveling health care providers, who work as short-term staff at PenBay Medical Center. This is a good arrangement for all parties. The hospital has vetted both the landlord and the renter and the landlord is guaranteed rental income from PenBay Medical Center for housing these short-term health care providers who meet the hospital’s staffing needs. Several of these arrangements already exist in Rockland, as well as in nearby towns.

Lastly, has the council considered the negative impact of water run-offs from new structures impermeable surfaces onto abutters’ properties and into their basements? Without legislating city ordinances that would protect abutting properties from storm water runoffs, homeowners’ basements would become storm water retention basins.

Who is responsible for such problems from occurring in the first place? Who bears the expense of remediation? Who does the impacted homeowner go to for compensation? Has council received an assessment from the Public Services Dept. regarding the city’s storm water collection systems capacities to managing increased runoffs? The effects of climate change will only increase such expensive problems for abutting homeowners and the city.

Does the city council care? Are Rockland property owners paying attention to this big issue?

Phyllis Merriam

Rockland

Thoughts on offshore wind development

[Editor’s note: the following letter is in response to a letter to the editor, “Statement from Maine’s Fishing Community on offshore wind development,” in the Jan 28 Courier-Gazette.]

There’s nothing better than enjoying a summer day on one of Maine’s pristine beaches and then watching the sunset with a lobster roll in hand. Our seafood is some of the best in the world, and the fishing tradition that has sustained us for centuries provides more than just our next meal — it’s a pillar of our identity as a state.

Climate change poses a direct threat to that industry, but our ocean holds the key to protecting us from its worst effects.

Maine is poised to invest in its enormous offshore wind potential by developing a 12-turbine research array in the Gulf of Maine, dedicated to studying the impacts of floating offshore wind.

Not only is offshore wind a cost-competitive resource with the ability to power the entire state many times over with renewable energy, it’s also at peak production in the winter, when energy demand is highest. In other words, it’s clean, abundant, and reliable, and Europe is already showing us how successful it can be.

Offshore wind stands ready to be an ally in the fight against climate change, not an enemy industry. Using our treasured coastline to deliver clean and renewable energy means investing in a world where our marine life and the fishing industry don’t just survive, but thrive for generations to come.

Only a small portion of the Gulf area would need to be utilized to provide our energy needs, and working with the fishing community will be instrumental in ensuring responsible development.

The research array presents us with a unique opportunity to study the effects of floating offshore wind on our marine ecosystems, and thus allow us to mitigate them in the future. We can’t pass up the opportunity to take advantage of this unique resource when the future of our state and our livelihoods depend on it.

I don’t want to lose either the beach or my lobster roll — but in the future I’ll have offshore wind to thank for both.

Anya Fetcher

State Director, Environment Maine

About ADUs and climate change

Rockland zoning ordinance amendment #39 proposes to amend the definition of Accessory Apartment to allow a detached apartment or dwelling on a lot with a single-family residence as a separate stand alone structure, ranging in size from 425 to 800 square feet.

Few can object to detach Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) such as existing garages, barns and carriage houses being converted to ADU’s as long as they meet conditional standards such as providing utilities; however people can oppose the erection of new detached ADUs on small lots for the follow reasons.

First, an analysis using the City’s GIS property tax map showing the footprint of the structures on each lot showed that most of the lots in the denser built-up areas, especially the neighborhoods east of Broadway, consists of smaller lots which are often taking-up with a house, garage, outbuildings, barns, decks, utilities and paved areas along with topographical, brook or drainage area land use constraints leaving little room for open space.

Adding new detached ADUs and displacing whatever open space is left on a smaller lot would make the area’s neighborhoods even denser than they are now.

Next, most accessory buildings, such as garages, barns and carriage houses, in the denser urban neighborhoods of the town from Broadway east were probably constructed in an earlier era when we did not experience the severe and more frequent year-round storm events from climate change as we do now.

Every year, we anticipated heavy snow packs and a gradually spring thawing. The only winter rain storms were from a short January thaw. In the previous era when people constructed garages and other outbuildings the smaller lots could pretty much absorb rain events.

However, because of climate changes, warmer winters and more severe rain storms this is no longer the case. Because these lots are small we can no longer continue to crowd them by displacing any remaining open areas with new structures but instead we need to keep them in their natural state, as much as possible, to absorb even more rain water.

The accumulated development of these untouched spaces on small lots in high density neighborhoods will force more storm water runoff onto adjacent properties and onto the sidewalks and streets.

Rodney Lynch

Rockland

To The Rockland City Council

I am Rebecca Lothrop and I live at 147 North Main St. I am against your proposal of “accessory dwelling units.” When you put a hat on a skunk and call it a dog, it still stinks. This is what you are doing to tiny houses, only under a different name. It still stinks.

During these times of uncertainty why are you still stirring things up? Perhaps if you all feel as if you should be doing something for this city, I agree. Our shoreline needs shoring up. Bouy Park’s tar is full of divets. Is this giving away? South End Beach shoreline is also giving way. The brook that goes through the city is in bad shape.

This is a beautiful city to walk through. Downtown Main Street isn’t the only street. Take a walk and notice these structural problems. Perhaps grants could be used to help these problems.

What little I do know about building, is you need a good foundation. The city’s infrastructure must be capable of handling additional structures that will add traffic to the deteriorating roads, more sewer for the treatment plant and additional runoff for the drainage and brooks to handle.

I see where there are specific rules and regulations that must be followed if this proposal moves forward. What are the enforcement plans to see that the owners are complying? Further, I do not see any mention of what the penalties are for violations.

Will the enforcement be up to the Code Officer, whose department is already burdened with trying to keep up with existing issues? Will the penalties be stiff enough to prevent owners from building anyway and asking for forgiveness by getting a slap on the wrist?

As in the past, my comments about the small houses are the same. It’s a bad idea. If you want more taxes entice sensible stores to come into the city. Entice developers to put big developments in open fields, not one here and there in a yard under a sneaky, twisting way to disguise the small house. The “dog” is a skunk and it stinks.

Thank you for the opportunity to present my comments.

Rebecca Lothrop

Rockland

Union's TCC dilemma

With recent comments on a Village Soup article about Union forming a new committee to determine the future of the TCC, I would like to share some thoughts with Union citizens.

Having been involved for the past 8+ years first as a board member, then volunteering at the Center and finally trying to find a way as a Selectman to prevent Union citizens from having to put millions of dollars into the building, I would like to point out a few things, and feel the only way to get my thoughts to the citizens now is through the papers.

There is no sense going back in time to see what did or didn’t happen, but to pick up the pieces and move forward before things get worse. The 99-year lease can be cancelled anytime due to numerous violations, failure to provide required reports to the town, selling town-owned property, not complying with state mandates and changing by-laws to accommodate the immediate need.

Though the original by-laws drafted at the same time as the lease by an attorney stated the Board of Directors would be made of registered Union residence a year or so ago, the board was out of town people… Union had no voice in any decision making.

I could go on but as I said, put that aside and get something done before the town really suffers. Let’s face it…they could walk at anytime and what happens then.

No matter if the current operation continues or not, one of three things needs to be done:

1. Leave it to operate as is: Get the town to fund the million plus cost (according to an engineering study) to fix the building and bring it into code.

This would only make it usable but look the same, then hire someone to run it in hopes it would pay for itself, which in a town this size I cannot see happening...there have been over a dozen boards since the plan to have a Community Center was developed by a group of Union citizens, and all failed...

Finding volunteers is the primary problem, and near impossible. Once it finally meets code, will the building just go down hill again and then cost the town millions to demolish?

2. Sell the building: Sell the building to a developer, and God only knows what would be developed, once sold as long as the buyers meet the ordinances, they can build whatever. What would the town get out of it…

I agree, taxes.

3. Put it to use to benefit the town; maintain historical setting: Do something like what was tried before, and get someone like Penquis to come back with their proposal, which might be hard now.

Before, there was pressure to develop senior housing in this area and the State authorized a lot of money for that cause. They were going to fix the exterior to keep the old school look for historical purposes and maintain it. Inside, I believe it was 28 units, and would have been built for seniors, with elevators added and developed parking.

They were going to fix up the gym and thrift shop, but let the town have total use along with the seniors. They are required to find or build another location for a day care if one was disrupted. Nonprofits don't pay town taxes, but with this type of operations they usually donate a sum of money yearly basing it on the need for town services i.e., fire and ambulance. This would require a 99-year lease, but it would be maintained by them.

I even was at the point of talking to them about maybe dividing the offices/classrooms along the gym entrance into smaller rooms, with doors opening for things like a satellite pharmacy, barbershop, pastry shop... basic things that should survive, having the surrounding town.

Last time this was brought up, people were lied to and misled by a large group resulting in it being voted down, though this group says “they” have and will volunteer to make what’s there happen; volunteers die out and disappear when needed. I’ve been there and have seen this. Just think, we could have had a nice-looking historical building sitting there now...

In closing, this benefits me in no way. I don’t need to rent space for anything at minimal cost, but I would like to see something positive for the town, and the hope of freeing the citizens of what could be a very costly venture.

Greg Grotton

Union

In response to the Council's housing proposal

The Rockland City Council has again proposed an Ordinance Amendment to allow accessory dwellings “attached” (apartment over an existing garage) and “detached” (tiny/small houses in everyone’s back yard or side yard, as long as they meet set back requirements), as an answer to affordable housing.

The Council passed this Ordinance Amendment in first reading Feb. 8, 2020. Final passage is scheduled for March 8, 2020, at a Zoom Council Meeting.

Runoff water and spring thaw, east of Broadway sits on properties and floods basements. The council should not encourage more impervious surface by allowing backyard small houses, in an area that is already too wet and too dense. In addition, brooks overflow and create health issues.

There are many housing alternatives to adding “detached” accessory dwellings on property of single-family residents:

1. Upper floors of Main Street, recommended in a city study by Sebago Tech; having the city work with Maine Housing to secure funding for adaptive reuse of buildings.

2. 599 empty existing housing units according to the 2016 census, presented to council in a letter from Vince Papsidero, a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

3. The Habitat for Humanity development on Philbrick Avenue.

On March 11, 2019, the council unanimously voted final approval for a Habitat for Humanity contract zone for Philbrick Avenue to “create much needed affordable housing.”

Habitat for Humanity stated all 12 units were spoken for and the soon-to-be owners were all reviewed. A city planner from Sebago Tech, reported to the council in November 2019, that the project would be an opportunity to see the development and see what the demand is for these smaller affordable units.

If you drive up Philbrick Avenue today, you will see five houses in various stages of construction. After nearly two years, there are seven empty lots out of the 12 approved for small houses.

Habitat for Humanity is now advertising in the Free Press (February second edition, page three), seeking people to apply for affordable home ownership in Philbrick Commons.

Detached small dwellings (425 square feet) in back yards or side yards of a person’s home will not solve affordable housing. It will do just the opposite. These small homes will be rented for market value or short-term rentals, as there is no limit on short term rentals in Rockland on owner occupied property.

Adele Grossman Faber

Rockland

Please respect ordinances

In spite of pleas from homeowners and longtime residents, the City Council is determined to go ahead with their plan, for lack of a better name, tiny houses.

To accomplish this requires radical changes in the city zoning ordinances. Former city officials including those who served Rockland well in elected positions have cautioned the current council against these radical changes. These former officials know the city well and has been involved in past engineering studies.

From these studies, that didn't come cheap, they learned possible consequences of over-building causing drainage problems, etc.

Then there's the human element. What one neighbor wants on his/her front or back yard could be a bone of contention to his neighbor. Instead of being just a tiny house, these 400 to 425 square feet house could become spite houses.

We welcome new home construction in our city, but please build using our current ordinances that have served our beloved city so well in the past.

Wayne C. Gray

Rockland

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