Courier-Gazette Letters to the Editor March 4

Mar 05, 2021

Island Road project not likely to be worth its cost, risk and limited benefit

To the South Thomaston Select Board:

As South Thomaston taxpayers, we support funding necessary road work, however, the Island Road project will likely cost the town far more than it is worth. For less than 800 feet of roadwork, the design has the town’s cost estimate at $91,000, nearly equal to the town’s entire $100,000 paving reserve for its 8.5 miles of roads. Factoring any further construction cost due to ledge removal will likely cause this estimate to rise.

The entire Spruce Head landing area, acres of improvements at Atwood’s, The Coop, and McLoon’s, is also at the same elevation as the two lowest sections of Island Road. What is the real purpose of spending $91,000 to raise short sections of road if the main landings will also be flooded?

Experts have told us that ledge removal can seriously impact the fragile aquifer and wells adjacent to the project. No amount of money will solve the problem of salinized wells after the damage has been done. The current design also requires the acquisition of adjacent private property at unknown legal and transfer costs.

Finally, at the Village/Island Road intersection, plans suggest changes not related to sea level rise but simply DOT standards. Inexplicably, many of these same standards for sight lines and safe intersections appear to have been compromised for the roadwork at the Keag. Why should the Village/Island Road intersection be designed to higher standards and costs where there is less traffic and fewer pedestrians?

We appreciate the board works hard on town business, and we understand abandoning a project that includes a tempting federal grant may be a difficult decision. At its next meeting, we ask the board actively consider suspending the design contract and legal work for the project.

Signed John Koffel and 17 signatures

South Thomaston

How Rockland's plan is perceived

I moved to Rockland from Connecticut in November 2018. Since I arrived, I’ve been made aware of a plan to change a zoning ordinance that would allow for the construction of a detached second building wherever this might be possible.

It seems foolhardy when there are already issues with rain water and run-offs. I personally prefer privacy and space.

I also feel that building low income housing on wetlands on Talbot Avenue is a bad idea. There is so much land available it doesn’t make sense to build on wet lands.

This plan is selfish, disingenuous, ill-conceived and intended to stack the deck for a political advantage. If it passes it will eventually diminish the dignity, character and reputation of Rockland.

Clark Ruff

Rockland

Consider a referendum for housing issue

While I support the concept of strengthening Rockland’s housing stock policy to attract more young people, judging from the many questions raised at City Council meetings and in the local press the past few months, there remain several unresolved issues surrounding the proposal currently before the Council.

The impact of changes in lot and housing size on water management infrastructure, relationship of housing policies to social justice concerns, sparse evidence of demand for the proposed housing expansion beyond the City Council, the apparent adequacy of existing housing alternatives to meet current and near future demand, the need to focus more on affordable housing for the elderly, and lack of alignment to Rockland’s comprehensive plan.

Given the negative emotions that were aroused when the so-called “tiny house” concept emerged a few years ago and all of the work that has gone into reframing the issue since then, I sense the current Council wants to consider the issues noted above as collaboratively as possible.

As we all know, collaboration in the context of a pandemic, with protocols like masks and social distancing in place, presents unique challenges. Engaging a large swath of the community in a workshop in a Zoom format is daunting. Many people who might want to participate may be held back by technology barriers. Under those circumstances, why not postpone a final decision until interested parties can gather together in person for community discussion, in a series of meetings utilizing a Q&A format, for example?

With the number of vaccinations beginning to accelerate and the promise of spring in the air, the community may be ready for group gatherings in two or three months, at least in outdoor venues. Following that process, put the matter to a vote in the form of a referendum.

This is an important community issue whose resolution deserves strong community support and endorsement.

John Bird

Rockland

Rockland's utopian search for affordable housing

Why the Rockland City Council's dogged determination to break up its orderly Zoning Plan by peppering the city's residential neighborhoods with micro-houses plopped onto postage stamp sized lots, mostly for taxpayer subsidized units seeking to attract low-income renters from afar and owned by wealthy, absentee landlord-developers?

Do either have any real interest nor attachment to the existing community? Such utopian, social engineering depreciates the value of residential property owners who are inevitably faced with tax increases to handle the extra burden placed upon city services and environmental stress.

Rockland's current tax burden is already frightening new homeowners from buying or constructing conventional single family dwellings, and many long standing residents are fleeing the city unable to afford the taxes on their homes. By creating a chronic imbalance between many tax exempt non-profit properties with too little commercial and industrial properties to make up the revenue gap, City Planners have unfairly loaded up the tax burden onto the shoulders of hard working family homeowners.

Thomaston residents are eternally grateful for Rockland's generously pushing the WalMart-Lowes commercial development across the boundary line onto Thomaston's tax rolls! Now Rockland's Counselors want to skew the City's Zoning and Tax Maps even further which will drive out more middle class residential property owners leaving only the rich and the taxpayer subsidized poor behind.

All under the guise of affordable housing? Affordable for whom? Whose Utopia?

Swift Tarbell

Owls Head

Thoughts on the ordinance amendment

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. Final passage is scheduled for March 8 at a Zoom Council Meeting.

There is 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 already too wet and 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 that all 12 units was spoken for and the soon-to-be owners was 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 (Feb. 2 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.

Barry Faber

Rockland

Affordable Housing for Rockland

Accessory Dwelling Units or (ADUs) are being touted by the Rockland City Council as a viable affordable housing option; which, they are not. During the workshop on ADUs, Mayor Ed Glaser asked the public to provide alternative options for affordable housing in Rockland.

Following are two options which were researched. Community Development Intern and University of Maine Graduate Student Daniel Curtis in 2011 updated the 2003 Rockland Housing Assessment. The methodology in both studies involved a city-wide windshield survey which evaluated the exterior façade of each dwelling unit as to their condition.

In summary, the survey found 222 substandard multi-family housing units and 203 substandard single-family units which potentially could be renovated or restored for affordable housing. Most of these units are likely occupied by low income families or persons on fixed incomes. To do the rehabilitation requires investments.

For this reason it is recommended that the Community Development Department update the 2011 City Housing Assessment, undertake a joint multi-family housing rehabilitation project of an existing building with CDBG and other funding sources, and establish a single family housing rehabilitation program.

The previous CDBG multi-family rehabilitation program renovated 10 apartment buildings consisting of 57 total units.

In 2011, Master’s Candidate Dan Curtis also conducted a survey of the upper levels of the downtown buildings. The purpose of this survey was to gather information on upper level occupancies. The study’s methodology involved the use of the Vision Appraisal Technology’s Assessor’s Online Database for the City of Rockland.

In addition to occupancy, it also allowed for projecting future potential growth. From the study it is roughly calculated that 27-31 upper level apartments could be created with assistance to make them affordable. Likewise, this study needs to be updated.

It is recommended that the CDBG Multi-family Housing Rehabilitation Project Program also be considered along with the Tillson Avenue Tax Increment Financing District and private investment for renovating or creating upper level areas into affordable housing.

These alternatives would provide more affordable housing than ADUs.

Rodney Lynch

Rockland

Believing in community

Thank you to our residents, their families and friends, our staff and their supportive families, our community vendors, the healthcare teams we work with and the local and state officials we turn to for guidance. During this pandemic time, you continue to demonstrate your belief in Bartlett Woods.

We are so grateful to acknowledge that our community is now over the “vaccine hurdle,” and can report our residents and staff are Pfizer-vaccinated. In January, we held two on-site vaccine clinics administered by CVS Pharmacy staff. We feel extremely fortunate to have worked with them at such an early stage of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Our own miracle is that we have kept the virus out of Bartlett. I hesitate to say it without knocking on wood, so I do it three times!

We have come so far since the start of the pandemic. We remember all too well when the thought of a vaccine for COVID-19 was a distant dream. So, we worked hard, with all of our partners, to collect new information and vital supplies, to educate all and reconfigure systems, and to practice the best safety steps, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

None of this would have been possible without our community. It is a wide-reaching circle of support we feel, from the volunteers who made us masks, to the families who sent us kind words of encouragement, to the EMTs who helped us learn how to use new equipment.

Above all, we are grateful for our residents, who understood what it would take to stay safe, and were on board with our staff from the start. Our residents know what sacrifice means, what rallying together looks like, and they respect the science behind the safety measures.

We know we are doing things right, when they tell us, “I’m so glad I’m here,” or “Thank God we got the vaccine early,” and of course, “At least I’m here with my friends, and not all alone.”

We look forward to when all of our community members are fully vaccinated, and better days will come for everyone. To every one of our families and friends, please stay safe, and know that you are very much appreciated by us.

Executive Director Mary Eads of Bartlett Woods Retirement Community

Rockland

About the anonymous letters...

The anonymous letters which Owls Head residents received recently about the airport and the interlocal agreement with Knox County created a lot of confusion and worry.

I was certainly confused, so I decided to speak with the airport manager, Jeremy Shaw. What I couldn’t understand was how an airport could refuse an FAA instruction, for instance, the one noted in the interlocal agreement on expanding the airport. If the FAA had authority to impose demands then it seemed pointless to create a controversy over the agreement.

Jeremy explained the airport receives about 1.1 million dollars a year (the figure is based on the number of people flying per year) from the FAA to run the airport. If the airport refused an instruction from the FAA, it would lose that funding and would be up to the county’s towns to fund the airport. Refusing to follow an FAA requirement could be very expensive for the county’s residents.

Then, I asked what the chances were that the FAA would want to expand the airport. Jeremy said that was highly unlikely, since the reason to expand would be to allow larger planes to use the airport. The next size up from the largest airplane now using the airport is a 737.

The airport area is not wide enough to accommodate that size plane and could never be expanded enough to do so. There just aren’t that many people wanting to use the airport. Cape Air is big enough.

The letters raise other issues, which Jeremy addressed. He is planning to hold several public zoom meetings to address residents’ concerns and answer questions. He is available to speak to anyone who is as confused as I was, at 594-4131.

Katie Syrett

Owls Head

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