City also gives final approval for artists to live at Lincoln Street Center

Rockland council OKs Habitat neighborhood

By Stephen Betts | Mar 12, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Habitat for Humanity plans to build 12 houses on Philbrick Avenue in Rockland.

Rockland — Habitat for Humanity has been given the go-ahead to rebuild a once-thriving neighborhood.

The Rockland City Council unanimously gave final approval Monday evening, March 11, to a contract zone with Habitat to allow the nonprofit organization to build 12 one- and two-bedroom homes on Philbrick Avenue.

The proposal calls for the homes to be from 650 to 850 square feet. The road will be paved, sidewalks will be created, and there will be green space for the development, to be called Philbrick Commons.

Councilor Valli Geiger said these are not tiny homes, as some people have called them, since the state defines tiny houses as smaller than 400 square feet.

Councilor Amelia Magjik also praised the project in support of the contract zone, saying this would create much-needed affordable housing.

Former Mayor Richard Warner spoke during the public comment session of the meeting and referred to the project as one for tiny houses. He praised the project, saying it would be a good demonstration of the value of tiny houses.

A contract zone is needed because the residential development will have smaller lot sizes, reduced road frontage and smaller minimum house sizes than current zoning allows.

Habitat purchased the property in January 2017 for $105,000 from the estate of Madeline Philbrick.

The future homeowners would be people earning 30 to 80 percent of the gross median income for the city of Rockland. They would have to invest 250 to 350 hours working on construction of Habitat homes.

Philbrick Avenue is a dead-end street on the west side of Camden Street.

The street had been a neighborhood of small cottages built in the 1930s by Eugene Philbrick. The homes were rented until the septic systems failed, and as they became vacant they were not re-rented.

The buildings were demolished in 2012 and the land has since been vacant.

Lincoln Street Center

The City Council also gave unanimous final approval to amending a zoning law that will allow artists to live at the Lincoln Street Center.

The zone change will allow combined living/work spaces related to educational and cultural purposes.

Donna McNeil, executive director of the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation, said it would benefit artists who live away from Rockland and would contribute to the city by bringing in artists from around the state.

The goal is to renovate the section of the building that the foundation rents from the Lincoln Street Center by adding a full kitchen and full bathroom. The foundation is the largest tenant, renting four studio spaces and paying $32,000 annually in rent, McNeil has said.

The renovations, however, would only proceed if the Lincoln Street Center also invests in the building with its own renovations, she said.

McNeil said artists who receive residencies would live there for one to six months at a time.

Artists turned out in support of the proposal Monday night.

Suzette McAvoy, executive director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, spoke out in support of the ordinance change.

Geiger expressed support, saying this would be a continuation of welcoming artists to the community.

There are 22 studios in the former school building and nearly all are rented.

The foundation provides grants to artists and is named after the late artists John David Ellis and Joan Marie Beauregard, according to the foundation's website.

The Lincoln Street Center is owned by Orchid LLC, which bought the property in 2012 for $125,000 after Camden National Bank took ownership of it from the nonprofit organization Lincoln Street Center for Arts. The city had sold the property to that group after the school district moved out in 1996 because of air quality concerns.

Orchid LLC consists of Oded Ashe of Las Vegas, local resident Mario Abaldo and Erez Ram of Agoura, Calif.

The building was constructed in 1866, but had major additions and renovations in the early 1900s. It has 35,000 square feet of space and sits on 1.65 acres. The building was originally Rockland High School, then Rockland District Junior High School before it closed in November 1996.

McLain proposals

The City Council also voted unanimously March 11 to seek proposals from developers of concepts for what could be done with the McLain School.

The city expects to take ownership of the three-story brick building in the fall, once Regional School Unit 13 relocates its administrative offices to South School.

A volunteer committee that has been studying the issue since April 2018 gave the City Council an update at the council's March 4 meeting.

Committee member Kathy Lane said there are exciting opportunities for the future use of McLain School, but that there are also significant challenges. The existing building could be converted into 22 to 25 units of housing, Lane said, or more if an addition were made to the building.

Sale of city-acquired properties

The council voted 5-0 at the March 11 meeting to issue a quit-claim deed to Dana Anderson of Augusta for 58 North Main St.

The plan is to renovate the house.

The North Main Street property includes a one-and-a-half-story house and one eighth-acre of land, assessed by the city at $109,200.

The city foreclosed on the property in March 2017 on a lien of $1,878 for 2014 taxes. There was also a lien of $1,975 for 2015 taxes. The 2016 taxes had also not been paid.

The 1,076-square-foot single-family home was built in 1973 and was owned by Ellen Whitehouse.

While issuing that quit-claim deed, the council voted 4-1 (Councilor Amelia Magjik opposed) to postpone issuing a second quit-claim deed to Anderson, who had bid $1,000 for 375 Pleasant St.

The city foreclosed on a tax lien of $279 levied in September 2016 for property taxes due in August 2015 on the Pleasant Street property.

The Pleasant Street property had last been owned by Bruce Hallett and had been in the Hallett family since 1959, according to city assessment records.

That building is in very poor shape and the plan was to demolish it.

Geiger said this was a good-sized property and selling it for $1,000 disturbed her.

This property has a half-acre and the entire property is assessed at $71,300.

The prices that Rockland receives for properties are far less than their assessed value, because the city only issues a quit-claim deed, meaning Rockland gives up its interests in the property. Former owners could challenge the ownership issue, and getting financing is more difficult than when a warranty deed is issued.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Don Dickinson | Mar 16, 2019 11:20

Paragraph 7: A contract zone is needed because the residential development will have smaller lot sizes, reduced road frontage and smaller minimum house sizes than current zoning allows.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Mar 15, 2019 10:16

I thought that the minimum square footage that anyone could built was 750.  Did something change that I do not know about?   Were would I find this information?  Thanks for any help

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Mar 12, 2019 18:15

ANOTHER productive, positive city council meeting. Refreshing!

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