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Debate on detached living units to continue in Rockland

By Stephen Betts | Feb 16, 2021
The Rockland City Council meeting from Feb. 8.

Rockland — The long-debated issue of whether homeowners should be allowed to have detached accessory dwellings on their properties will be before the Rockland City Council again March 8.

The City Council gave unanimous preliminary approval Feb. 8 to several amendments to the city's residential ordinances to allow for detached apartments on single-family lots. The Council had given preliminary approval last month but the amendments returned it to the preliminary vote again Feb. 8.

A public hearing and possible final vote on the overall ordinance are scheduled for March 8.

Even with the changes, there is still opposition being voiced about the changes.

The Council also voted approved Feb. 8 to prohibit the accessory detached dwelling units in AA zones such as the Samoset Road and Pen Bay Acres. That will go to a final vote March 8. The vote on this was 4-1 with Councilor Sarah Austin opposing.

The Samoset Road is where James Ebbert lives who had challenged in court an attempt by the City Council to allow smaller homes, smaller setbacks in all zones back in early 2019.

Under the amended ordinance, accessory apartment will be approved with the following conditions. The principal dwelling unit and the accessory apartment shall remain under common ownership and one of the units shall be owner-occupied at all times; the accessory apartment shall not alter the basic character of the principal dwelling unit as a single-family dwelling; the accessory apartment shall include its own kitchen, a three fixture bath, and no more than one bedroom; the floor area of the apartment must be at least 425 square feet and cannot exceed eight hundred 800 square feet; and the accessory apartment shall comply with all applicable codes and ordinances, including building and energy standards that apply to the principal dwelling unit.

The new proposal does not include the sweeping changes included in the measure that generated considerable opposition beginning in late 2018.

The City Council approved those changes in January 2019, but rescinded its actions April 1 of that year, as it faced a court appeal and a petition signed by more than 523 residents that would have placed a referendum before voters to repeal the law and prohibit it from consideration again for five years.

Opponents to the current proposal spoke at the Feb. 8 meeting.

Rodney Lynch said such accessory units should not be allowed east of Broadway where most lots are smaller and there is more density in buildings on lots. He said climate change is making the concern about water runoff even greater.

"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," Lynch said.

Adele Grossman Faber said runoff water and spring thaw, east of Broadway, pools on properties and floods basements. She said 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, she said, including upper floors of Main Street, existing vacant housing, and Habitat for Humanity's project on Philbrick Avenue.

"Detached small dwellings (425 square feet) in back yards, side yards, and front 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," she said.

Councilor Nate Davis said he regularly hears from people who want to either convert an out building to an accessory residential unit or build new ones for that purpose. The code office also receives these requests, he said.

Davis also said he would be willing to work on an ordinance to deal with impervious surfaces and water runoff.

Councilor Sarah Austin said there are not that many lots where such accessory buildings can be built.

"We're not opening up the floodgates," Austin said. "There will be a limited number."

(Correction: A public hearing and possible final vote on the ordinance will be held March 8).

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Comments (1)
Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Feb 20, 2021 07:17

If 523 residents signed a petition why is this being pursued? Does the city council represent the people...or not?

I thought that we the people voted them in.

Drainage issues are serious, not fun.

I had to purchase a sump pump years ago to avoid the problem at my house.

Will the people be voting March 8th ?

I doubt it.

They already did with a petition of 523 signatures!!!!!

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