Rockland citizens launch petition drive, lawsuit to repeal zoning law

By Stephen Betts | Jan 28, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Former Rockland City Councilor Adele Grossman Faber, back to camera, explains the petition process Monday afternoon to a group who will be circulating the petitions to overturn a pending ordinance.

Rockland — A group of citizens have launched a petition drive to repeal a law adopted earlier this month by the Rockland City Council to revamp residential zoning regulations to reduce the minimum building size, setback and road frontage requirements for houses.

And one of those residents has filed an appeal in court to overturn the law.

The Rockland Charter provides residents the right to petition for repeal of ordinances, an action only taken three times previously in the city's history.

Nineteen people turned out Monday afternoon, Jan. 28, at Rockland City Hall to begin the process. The petitioners met with City Clerk Stuart Sylvester about the process.

Those 19 people will be able to circulate copies of the petition. A copy of the petition will also be at the city clerk's office where registered Rockland residents can sign them.

The ordinance was approved Jan. 14, despite strong opposition from speakers at that meeting. Opponents said the change would adversely alter the character of neighborhoods, filling some with tiny homes that could become short-term rentals. Supporters argued that this will help address the shortage of affordable housing in Rockland and allow elderly people to age at home.

The petitioners must collect at least 523 signatures of registered Rockland residents to force a referendum. Those signatures would must be gathered within 30 business days, which means they must be turned in at City Hall with sufficient signatures by March 12.

An election would then be scheduled. A special election could be called, or the vote could be held June 11, when the annual school district budget validation vote is held.

Any ordinance being challenged through this process would be put on hold until the referendum. And at that referendum, there would have to be a minimum of 920 votes cast for the referendum result to be valid.

The petitioners include former Mayors Richard Warner, Warren Perry, Carol Maines and Tom Molloy, as well as Adele Faber, a former city councilor; former city attorney Barry Faber; former State Rep. Wayne Gray; current longtime Planning Board Chair Erik Laustsen; former school board member Virginia Manning and her husband, Dr. C.F. Manning; and former Rockland Economic and Community Development Director Rodney Lynch.

The repeal process has been used three times in Rockland history.

In June 2006, voters repealed a City Council-approved mandatory pay-per-bag trash disposal ordinance by a 959 to 479 vote.

The second time occurred when the City Council voted to approve a zoning change in August 2008 to allow Walgreens to build a store at the southwest corner of the intersection of Maverick and Camden streets, despite strong opposition from neighbors. Neighbors began a petition drive and forced a referendum and in December 2008, voters citywide repealed the zoning change by 892-521.

And the last time occurred in 2014, again over a mandatory pay-per-bag law.

The City Council approved mandatory pay-per-bag in June 2014, but opponents immediately launched a repeal effort. In November 2014, residents overturned the law by a 1,834 to 748 vote.

Court appeal filed

In addition to the petition drive, Rockland resident James Ebbert filed an appeal in the Knox County Court to overturn the law.

The appeal by Ebbert, who is represented by attorney Paul Gibbons of Camden, claims that there was not sufficient public notice of the Jan. 14 hearing and vote by the City Council. The appeal claims that the city is required to publicize public hearings twice, but that it was only done once in the newspaper.

The appeal also claims that the zoning change would not be in compliance with Rockland's comprehensive plan, which requires that development reflect the character of the neighborhood.

The appeal was filed Jan. 28.

No hearing date has been scheduled for the appeal.

Ebbert is one of the 19 people who launched the petition drive.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jan 30, 2019 05:48

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