Rockland council postpones votes on high-profile issues

By Stephen Betts | Feb 15, 2017

Rockland — The Rockland City Council postponed votes Tuesday night, Feb. 14, on two issues that have generated significant debate within the community.

The council voted to postpone action on proposals by Councilor Valli Geiger to overhaul residential zoning laws to allow for denser development, as well as an ordinance to declare Rockland's sovereignty on food production.

Geiger said she would be returning with a revised overhaul of zoning laws. She said she would present it again after a fifth councilor is elected. The vacant seat will be filled at an election scheduled for June 13.

Resident James Kalloch criticized the plan at the start of the meeting, saying it needed first to get the backing of the Comprehensive Planning Commission. He also said that the overhaul was not supposed to impact the entire city, but that Habitat for Humanity's plan to create small homes on Philbrick Avenue is contingent on zoning changes.

Geiger said the original version of her residential zoning overhaul was reviewed by the Comprehensive Planning Commission more than a year ago, and was supported.

She said, however, the revised proposal she plans to bring before the council will cover only an area north to Maverick Street and west to Broadway. Geiger said once a revised proposal is developed, it would go before the Comprehensive Planning Commission before a final vote by the council.

While the council voted to postpone a vote on an ordinance on food sovereignty, it voted 4-0 to approve a non-binding resolve offered by Councilor Adam Ackor as a compromise.

The resolve states "Rockland citizens possess the right to save and exchange seeds; grow produce, process, sell, purchase and consume local foods, thus promoting self-reliance, the preservation of our local food economy, family farms and food traditions."

Ackor had backed the ordinance in its initial vote last month, but said after the city received a legal opinion that said the city did not have the authority called for in the ordinance, he could not support the law.

The citizen group Renew Rockland backed both the compromise resolve as well as the ordinance. Councilor Ed Glaser said he supports the ordinance and was sad to see it go.

Geiger said the ordinance was not dead. She said she Wednesday, Feb. 15, she wants to wait to see if the Maine Legislature acts on any bills related to food sovereignty before deciding whether to again submit her proposal.

At the Tuesday night meeting, Glaser also asked that a meeting to discuss a resolve to promote diversity in Rockland be rescheduled. He said a group -- the Woodstove Alliance -- that wants to attend the meeting would not be able to be at the planned Feb. 23 discussion.

Several residents spoke at the council meeting and said the resolve was needed, saying there has been an increase in people being targeted for harassment since the election.

The Woodstove Alliance was created after the November election, according to Frances Wheeler-Berta. She said she was struck by how members of the community were wondering how to respond to the substantial changes in governance. She put out word on social media and invited people to come to a post-election gathering at Zoot in Camden.

She said about 30 people showed up from  four different towns, including Rockland.

"We identified what institutions, resources and communities were potentially at risk and also discussed the huge polarization/divide in our country," Wheeler-Berta said.

The issue is expected to be discussed at the council's March 6 meeting.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Feb 16, 2017 07:46

Is there some Armageddon or dystopian food issue here in Rockland that we're all over looking that somehow the council sees? The housing needs in Rockland are not going to be solved by new ordinances that cram in new housing close to older stock. Somehow council comes up with "new ideas" that have no supporting evidence or will face legal challenges if adopted.

Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | Feb 15, 2017 18:34

Don't some of the big seed companies have proprietary use of their seeds which may not be exchanged?  I think I remember reading about court cases over this situation. In one it seemed a farmer could not use the seeds he produced from a plant he had grown from such seeds.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Feb 15, 2017 16:00

Well said Maggie!

Posted by: Maggie Trout | Feb 15, 2017 14:17

Should the Maine Legislature declare state-wide food sovereignty in the language of the postponed Rockland ordinance, there would be no need for municipalities to adopt municipal ordinances.  Why Maine legislators would enact sovereignty without also seceding from the United States - an absurdity - and threaten the ability of farmers and processors to sell and distribute their foods outside immediate local, direct-to-consumer marketing is unfathomable.  And nepotism is increasing at a time when there is, paradoxically, uproar about exactly that issue in the White House..

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