Lessons from the zoning debate in Rockland

Feb 28, 2019

On Feb. 11, the Rockland City Council unexpectedly voted to do an about-face on its controversial zoning overhaul for the city.

The goal, according to the councilors, was to help young people find affordable housing options in Rockland, and also to help the elderly age in place in small dwelling units that were not attached to the main house. For example, an aging parent or relative might stay in a garage turned into a small apartment on the property of their younger relatives, or conversely, a recent college graduate facing high student loans might live in a tiny house on a parcel owned by his or her parents.

This zoning would have reduced the minimum lot size for houses, the minimum size of houses allowed, setbacks and road frontage.

The council voted to make these changes despite strongly voiced opposition from speakers at their meetings.

How you view what has happened depends on your opinion on the proposed zoning changes, and we haven't reached a consensus in the newsroom, any more than the citizens of the city seem to have.

Some of us, who were skeptical of the changes at first, felt that ultimately the city councilors made a good case for trying out the changes.

Others felt the council showed a certain arrogance in pushing the changes through despite vocal opposition. In particular, Councilor Amelia Magjik came across at times as dismissive of the objections.

This also was a case where we were forced to question whether those vocal opponents represented the majority of Rockland residents, or merely a small, somewhat elite segment (the chief opposition came from former mayors, former Councilor Adele Faber and the Planning Board chairman).

The opposition sent out mailers and organized a petition to block the changes. Their rhetoric was alarmist, elitist and over the top.

The group called itself "Saving Rockland," which suggested the city was in danger.

"Tiny houses are coming to your neighborhood!," the mailer said over a photo of a tiny house, and "Rockland's green spaces will disappear."

The council backed down, likely, to avoid the cost and turmoil of an extended fight and a petition campaign, and in the process, councilors lost a bit of their power.

Perhaps lessons could be learned on both sides from this. The councilors, even if they are sure they are right, must do a better job of getting buy-in from the citizens. Even though they are elected to make decisions for us, the citizens of Rockland have shown they wield a formidable power when they are organized.

Councilors should be patient and work to sell their ideas to the community.

On the flip side, residents in Rockland should open their minds to potential changes in the community. We have a shortage of affordable housing, the highest property taxes in the county, struggling schools and we too often send developers to neighboring communities that are easier to work with.

One thing we have found is that when we actually sit down and talk with councilors, business people, local lawmakers and those who have a new idea, what they have to say is often reasonable and worthwhile. So let's take the time to start listening to each other.

Fighting to the death to maintain the status quo may not be the best thing for this city as we look into the future.

Remembering George S. Chappell

We were very sorry to learn of the passing of George Chappell, who died at the age of 82 Feb 21 in Camden.

When The Courier-Gazette started back up in 2012, George was one of the original members or our news team, reporting on City Hall and more. He was one of us, with ink in his blood, a longtime, experienced journalist with a fierce intellect. He also brought to the newsroom a kind spirit and a wonderful sense of humor.

During his life, he worked as a teacher and he had a passion for writing poetry, some of which we have published in these pages.

We will miss him.

Calm in the Eye of the Beholder: A Walk Along Park Street, Rockland

By George S. Chappell


I sauntered southwest

over roads from home;

breezes blew

to cool a hot sun.


Where should I go?

I asked myself,

the traffic rushing

by, gulls hovering above.


The motors moaned,

both big and little,

and stop lights flashed

like dashing parts


of a trace of light

in a northern sky.

Yet I felt comfort

among all the cars.


Far down the street

a siren sounded;

a fire truck moved

its shrill blast raging.


I turned to where the sea

ran into the shore;

my heart knew

a sensation of delight.


All the traffic

in all the world

hummed in my mind

that flawless day.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Mar 03, 2019 09:54

One of the lessons of the zoning ordinance is that the Courier/Village Soup journalists do not do their due diligence research regarding the issues.

-Phyllis Merriam

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Feb 28, 2019 13:49

Loved the poetry.


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