Critics cite lack of public notice in first rescission vote.

Rockland council again repeals hotly contested zoning overhaul

By Stephen Betts | Apr 01, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Rockland resident Barry Faber, a former city attorney, speaks Monday evening, April 1, at the Rockland City Council meeting.

Rockland — The Rockland City Council repealed Monday evening, April 1, -- for the second time -- a controversial zoning proposal that would have overhauled residential zoning laws.

The 5-0 vote came after a lawsuit brought by a critic of the proposed zoning law contended that the initial Feb. 11 rescission occurred without notice to the public.

The council had approved the zoning overhaul Jan. 14, but it was met with a petition drive. The zoning change would have reduced setbacks, minimum lot sizes and minimum building sizes for residential property.

The opponents said the changes would adversely affect residential neighborhoods.

Adele Grossman Faber, a former city councilor, said that residents -- who were circulating a petition that would have led to a June referendum on repealing the ordinance -- had collected nearly 700 signatures when the council voted Feb. 11 to rescind the ordinance without any notice to the public.

She pointed out that if the referendum had been held and voters approved it, the council would not have been able to bring the proposal up again for five years.

The rescission vote by the council will allow the legislative body to raise the issue again with no time restriction.

The revote also came after resident James Ebbert filed a legal challenge to the original ordinance approved Jan. 14. The legal appeal was later amended to challenge the rescission because of the lack of notice.

Rockland resident Barry Faber, a former city attorney, urged the City Council to put to rest the proposal to reduce setbacks and minimum lot sizes.

He said any shortage of housing is being dealt with in other ways -- a contract zone for Habitat for Humanity to build small homes on Philbrick Avenue, allowing residences at the Lincoln Street Center for artists, and seeking proposals to covert the McLain School into housing.

Other residents argued that the city's sewer system could not handle the burden of the amount of housing that the zoning law could create.

Former Mayor Warren Perry, an opponent of the zoning overhaul, said the council should focus on affordable taxes, not just affordable housing.

Resident Mark Digirolamo was the sole citizen to speak out for the zoning changes, saying affordable housing was a significant problem in Rockland, particularly for younger people.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Valli Genevieve Geiger | Apr 03, 2019 13:48

It is pretty routine for another councilor to fill in for a mayor when they are unavailable. We have covered for a mayor at the Santa's tree lighting, meetings, committee attendance, and council meetings when the mayor is away or ill. These are volunteer positions and most of this current council works for a living as well as spending hours a week on city business. I work in Augusta, so it is easier for me to run over and testify, when Lisa is unavailable. It is so unnecessary to try and make this something it is not.

Thank you as always Mr. Mckusic for your kindness.

Valli Geiger

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Apr 03, 2019 13:43

Shouldn't we be appreciative that Ms Geiger is willing to fill in the gap when Mayor Westkaemper is unable to attend?   Would it really be better for no one to attend representing Rockland and keeping up with important information?  I agree with Mr. Mazzeo that affordable housing, for the most part, is gone for Rockland.  The Barter Block, Studley apartments, the old Rankin Block; and surrounding area; as well as all the property torn down for MBNA.  It is never going back to the way things used to be. Am thankful for a dedicated City Council who are doing their best to represent us all.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Apr 03, 2019 13:16

The days of affordable housing in Rockland, from the most part, is gone. People that own rental properties are not doing it to make a tenants life easier.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Apr 02, 2019 12:49

Its not mentioned in this article but the council had a public agenda-setting session wherein they discussed moving ahead speedily on some version of a "tiny house" ordinance before November when the council make-up will likely change with an election. Also, interestingly, it was revealed that Councilor Geiger represents Mayor Westkaemper at state-wide mayors meetings. So, past mayor Geiger is the de facto current mayor. Why does Westkaemper cede her mayoral role to Councilor Geiger?

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Apr 02, 2019 09:49

I have always supported more affordable (not government subsidies ) housing for Rockland. I have NOT however been a proponent of the manner in which the council has pursued their agenda. They have taken this "Damm the torpedoes full speed ahead" approach and ignored the objections of many of our most prominent citizens.  I think a negotiated settlement could be had that would satisify the needs of both parties.  We desperately need to move forward, not two steps forward, one step back.  Now the council is talking about a new city hall and forget the housing issue.  This is not the solution.  Let's stay focused people.  Let's work with those that object, not fight against them.  This gets us nowhere.  Warren your comment about the taxes.  This winter I looked at property in South Carolina.  A small town on the coast about the size of Rockland, a house similar to mine here in town.  Asked the realtor about property tax.  She said  $737 a year with your senior discount. I almost fell over.  This year ours will exceed $3,500 and that is just a drop in the bucket compared to many others and no snow to shovel.

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