Divided City Council OKs residential zone overhaul, despite fierce opposition

By Stephen Betts | Jan 14, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Five former Rockland mayors as well as a former state legislator turned out Monday night, Jan. 14, to oppose a sweeping overhaul of residential zoning laws. Pictured in the line ready to speak are, from front, former Mayors Tom Molloy, Warren Perry, Richard Warner and Brian Harden. Former Mayor Carol Maines is seated in the foreground.

Rockland — A divided Rockland City Council voted Monday night, Jan. 14, to approve a sweeping overhaul of residential zoning laws, despite strong opposition from 16 speakers, including five former mayors, a former state representative, and the longtime chair of the Planning Board.

The Rockland City Council voted 3-1 to approve the ordinance change that would reduce minimum lot sizes, minimum building sizes, road frontages and setback requirements.

Councilor Ed Glaser was the sole vote against the change and made an unsuccessful attempt to have the council hold off on acting on the issue for another month to allow for more talks with the public. That effort failed, as did his proposal to exempt properties in residential AA zones, such as the Samoset Road and Pen Bay Acres.

Both those attempts failed on a 2-2 vote. Councilor Valli Geiger voted with Glaser and Councilor Benjamin Dorr was absent.

Of the 18 people who spoke at the Jan. 14 meeting, 16 urged councilors to either reject the change or to place the matter before voters in a referendum.

Planning Board Chair Erik Laustsen said this was too dramatic a change for every zone in the city. He said with no minimum footprints for houses, a structure could be erected if it were big enough to hold a toilet.

Former Mayor Richard Warner said this was a tiny-house ordinance, regardless of what the council called it. He said tiny houses are too small to raise children in.

"You're going too far, too fast," said former Mayor Brian Harden.

He said the new zoning would cause a disruption to the community, devalue properties and downgrade neighborhoods.

Former Mayor Carol Maines said allowing small homes in every neighborhood could have unintended consequences, including conflict with current design standards.

Resident Carole Black asked why homes could be built as close as 10 feet from the road in neighborhoods where this is not currently the case. She suggested instead of an arbitrary number, that the setback should be the average of the existing homes in a neighborhood.

Resident Deborah Sealey said this would radically change the city, adding tat it was not proper that three councilors -- two of whmo have only recently moved to Rockland -- could make such a radical change to the community.

Former State Rep. Wayne Gray said he did not know how allowing small houses wiould help the community. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.

Resident Nate Davis voiced support for the change, saying he would support new homes being built next to his home. He said new, affordable housing was needed to attract a diverse citizenry.

Davis said without the change, Rockland would become only for the wealthy, retirees and tourists.

Elizabeth Bull urged approval of the change, saying that the new regulations would better reflect what Rockland is. She said they would also provide options for people to renovate and expand their existing homes.

The city's Comprehensive Planning Commission was not able to reach a consensus on whether the ordinance was in line with the city's comprehensive plan

Last week, Tom Marshall, who served on the Comprehensive Planning Commission, said statistics show there is an affordable housing shortage in Rockland, pointing out that rising home prices are far outpacing the cost of living .

He said allowing for accessory residences adjacent to primary homes would enable people to age in place.

The Comprehensive Planning Commission offered suggestions to the City Council to consider a more targeted area for the first change; focus on areas east of Old County Road; collect data to characterize the housing crisis to determine who needs housing, how much, and what are the drivers; explicitly address change of use of nonconforming structures; and analyze setbacks in sample areas to understand how these changes align with existing neighborhoods.

City Manager Tom Luttrell said last week if the zoning changes received final approval from the council, a proposed contract zone for Habitat for Humanity on Philbrick Avenue would not be needed.

The Rockland Planning Board in October recommended approval of a contract zone that could lead to the creation of a neighborhood of 12 modest-sized homes on Philbrick Avenue. The contract zone is needed because the 12 lots do not meet the road frontage requirement of 80 feet per parcel, nor would each home meet the 750-square-foot minimum house size.

After the council vote Monday night, opponents said they were unsure whether they would launch a petition drive to overturn the ordinance.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Feb 01, 2019 14:40

Gerald,

i have done extensive reach on a tiny house.  I can have a tiny house built, per specs of the city and have it fit right in with the neighborhood.  People really should reach Tiny Houses before labeling them all cheap and cheap looking.  Tiny houses have a very broad scope of square footage and designs.   Do you, Gerald, know of land big enough that a city tax payer owns who is willing to built another apartment complex.  Good grief, they are more hideous than a tiny house.  I sure hope that all those opposed to this have researched tiny houses.  It sounds like they have no clue.  More corncerned what will about their property than housing shortage. Shame on those Majors.  Every house wanted to to built has to go through the city first. Why are these people wearing their panties so tight?



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jan 15, 2019 11:53

Yes Francis the three ladies that are pushing this proposal are all new comers not in any way familiar with the history of this town. Let’s keep in mind these folks “from away” you all voted in by a wide margin over candidates that grew up here own homes and businesses here. So don’t complain now, because you are getting exactly what you asked for and as far as all the former mayors concerned about what’s happening I would say “ you made your bed now lie in it”



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jan 15, 2019 10:05

I would think that the number of former city mayors that spoke against this would carry some weight. Most of them grew up here, graduated from our school system, have lived and served our community. This current council has their own agenda and hiring a planner will not fix that problem. Encouraging citizens that have lived here for more than a few months or years would serve us better. I really do not think these councilors are in touch with the average citizen. When that many former respected citizens speak we need councilors that listen. My advice would be to go back to the bakery and rethink this issue.



Posted by: Thomas Whiting | Jan 15, 2019 07:34

The current Comprehensive Plan is the impetus behind these changes being proposed. It represents an inordinate amount of effort by the committee which worked upon it and is, as the name implies, comprehensive. It is merely though, a vision of conjectures, suggestions and assumptions by those who crafted it, as to what the needs of the city might be heading into an unknown future. It should not be construed to be sacrosanct or inviolable, as written, however. As one reads through the document, it becomes apparent that a case for almost any kind of development can be made, citing the language contained within. It raises as many questions about the future growth of the city as it does suppositions about how and where that future growth should occur within our boundaries. Since choosing Rockland as my home 30 years ago, I have witnessed a slow, yet inexorable degradation of the character of my neighborhood from residential into commercial and industrial uses. One by one, residences have been rezoned and converted to allow this, forever changing the appeal of the area to me. I urge all citizens to read the Comprehensive Plan and decide if the future vision of our city, as set forth therein, aligns with your own expectations of the quality of life you hope for.



Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Jan 14, 2019 21:03

I will add that this is one more example as to why Rockland - and surrounding towns - need to hire a planner. For example, were any studies of this zoning change conducted on impact the existing infrastructure it would have? On rain water runoff/drainage do to the increase in the area impervious surfaces? The decrease in the area of plants?

I am a supporter of more dense development and against "urban sprawl." I get that demand for affordable housing is high and unfulfilled. But this zoning change is not going to significantly address that.



Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Jan 14, 2019 20:56

Rockland has a housing shortage, that will only get worse as houses that have been chopped up into de facto apartment buildings are "uncoverted" back to their original use as single family homes. This has already happened in Camden.

The high demand isn't for tiny houses that people can purchase, but for good quality, modern, safe apartments that can be rented. The focus on tiny houses is misplaced, especially this idea to allow them to be jammed into neighborhoods where they don't necessarily fit. This will not be the first time a City Council has changed zoning in Rockland despite opposition of the residents. A special election can overturn their action.



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