Opponents turn out on Rockland proposal to revamp residential zoning

By Stephen Betts | Jan 08, 2019
Source: Stephen Betts Former Rockland Mayor Richard Warner speaks at the Monday night, Jan. 7, meeting of the City Council to voice opposition to a proposed ordinance to revamp city residential zoning regulations.

Rockland — The controversial proposal to revamp the city's residential zoning laws to reduce minimum lot sizes, minimum building sizes, road frontages, and setback requirements was met Monday night, Jan. 7, with considerable opposition.

The City Council gave preliminary approval Dec. 10 and is scheduled for a final vote Monday, Jan. 14.

The proposal has drawn praise and criticism.

The Comprehensive Planning Commission was not able to reach a consensus on whether the ordinance was in line with the city's comprehensive plan, according to committee Chair Julie Lewis.

There was only one vote on the commission in support of the proposed amendment, two members were opposed, and the other two members were unable to come down on either side, she said.

She said the difficulty was because of the challenges of balancing the conflicting goals of promoting infill, maintaining the existing character of neighborhoods, limiting sprawl and increasing density.

At the meeting Monday night, former Mayor Richard Warner -- who served two terms on the council (1982-85 and 1991-94) said it would be wrong to have tiny houses erected in developed neighborhoods. He said people move to Rockland for its sense of place and this would change the character of neighborhoods.

Former Rockland Community Development Director Rodney Lynch voiced concern that added development would worsen the city's storm water runoff problems. Wastewater Treatment Plant Director Terry Pinto said later in the Monday night meeting that the impact would be minimal.

Former City Attorney Barry Faber said there are already enough alternatives in Rockland for additional housing. He said there is land on upper Limerock Street and Pleasant Street that could be developed for new homes. He said there are also many upper floors of downtown buildings that could be converted to residences.

"There is no need to change the character of every zone in Rockland," Faber said.

Rockland resident Jim Kalloch said he was concerned that villages of tiny homes would be created throughout the city and rented out short-term, which would do nothing to help alleviate any housing shortage.

James Ebbert of Samoset Road said allowing smaller homes could be done by contract zone, as is being considered for Habitat for Humanity on Philbrick Avenue. Ebbert said if this ordinance is approved, developers could come in and buy up dilapidated houses, tear them down, and build tiny houses, which would reduce the value of neighboring properties.

Supporters said the changes would reflect the current conditions in Rockland, in which many existing homes are out of compliance with zoning laws adopted decades ago.

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.

Planning Board member Marcel Valliere said the ordinance being proposed is not for allowing tiny houses, but to allow modifications to existing homes -- for example, to add a bedroom on the ground floor -- to allow elderly residents to continue to stay there.

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 Monday if the zoning changes do receive final approval from the council, a proposed contract zone for Habitat for Humanity on Philbrick Avenue will 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.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jan 16, 2019 11:46

I have always supported more affordable housing options for the city and I have continually said that there are many features of this proposal that I agree with, however I have also told members of council that this plan is too much "damm the torpedos full speed ahead"  For the last year I have been concerned about the strong amount of discontent that surrounds this proposal.  Many long time residents just don't want this yet they go ahead anyway.  This new legislation is like a freshly baked batch of brownies that look good on the outside, but not completely baked inside.  I think Adel Faber had the best idea.  The Habitat  for Humanity project on Philbrick ave is approved for small cluster housing.  Let that play and if all goes well expand the program in other parts of the city.  Let's not "throw the baby out with the bath water" so to speak.  Think there is an agenda here, unspoken yet very much moving forward at full speed.

Posted by: James Michael Kalloch | Jan 08, 2019 13:48

The city council is not following the voted upon standard ( comprehensive plan) to make this zone change. This is why we have a plan to prevent council from doing just this type of action. It took former mayor Geiger 5 years to get a city council that would vote for this massive zone change. If the residents of Rockland do not wake up and voice the concerns then we get what Gieger gives us. tiny houses and smaller lot and small setbacks. SPEAK UP Rockland


Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Jan 08, 2019 13:41

The housing shortage will only get worse as more houses that have been converted into multi-family apartments are "uncoverted" back to their original use as single family homes. What really needs to be developed in Rockland is market rate apartment buildings. Many younger people just starting out can't afford a mortgage or not want to buy a house, but they do want a nice place to live. I am happy to chat about this idea.

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