Rockland council unexpectedly rescinds controversial residential zoning overhaul

By Stephen Betts | Feb 12, 2019

Rockland — Faced with a legal challenge and a petition drive to repeal the law, the Rockland City Council voted Monday night, Feb. 11, to rescind its controversial overhaul of residential zoning laws.

The surprise move came at the start of the meeting, when Councilor Valli Geiger made a motion to rescind the zoning overhaul approved by the City Council Jan. 14. The vote to rescind was unanimous.

The rescinding of the ordinance comes after a weekend in which city officials claimed a misleading mailing was sent to residents by opponents of the law.

Geiger pointed out at Monday's meeting that the opposition from several former mayors and municipal leaders contributed to her proposal to rescind. She noted that they oversaw Rockland during its nadir and that it has undergone a transformation and praised them for their role in that change.

"I believe you are fighting the last war," Geiger said.

Rockland was at a fork in the road, she said, where nothing could be done and young people and the elderly would be priced out of the market. She said Rockland had flourished over the past few decades in part because of the influx of young, creative entrepreneurs.

She said the city could choose to take steps to continue to attract those young entrepreneurs.

The zoning overhaul would have reduced the minimum lot size for houses, the minimum size of houses allowed, setbacks and road frontage. The ordinance would also have allowed accessory residences.

Opponents, however, said the ordinance would have resulted in tiny houses being built throughout the city, which they believed would harm the character of neighborhoods and reduce property values.

Those opponents launched a petition drive and former Councilor Adele Faber, one of the people circulating petitions, said Monday nigh that the group had gathered more than the 523 signatures needed to force the repeal referendum.

Five former mayors, a former state representative, and the current longtime chair of the Planning Board were among the opponents to the zoning overhaul.

Resident James Ebbert had also filed an appeal of the ordinance in court, arguing, among other things, that the city had not met the public notice requirements.

The City Council held a closed-door meeting last week with its attorney regarding the court appeal.

Faber referred to Geiger's comment about this being the last war, saying that people who questioned the ordinance and wanted to have a voice in the issue were not the enemy.

Councilor Ed Glaser said he hoped people who have voiced concern over the ordinance would work with city officials to come up with revisions that all could support.

Postcards warning about the possible impact of the changes to the ordinance were mailed to many homes in Rockland Friday, Feb. 8. A group calling itself Saving Rockland sent out the mailer, which includes a photo of a tiny house and an aerial photograph of a residential Rockland neighborhood.

"Tiny houses are coming to your neighborhood!," states the headline over the photo of the tiny house, and "Rockland's green spaces will disappear" over the aerial photo.

The mailer also maintained that the ordinance approved by the Rockland City Council  Jan. 14 would double the density of residential neighborhoods, harm the character of neighborhoods and decrease property values.

Councilor Amelia Magjik, who was a strong supporter of the ordinance change, posted Saturday afternoon on Facebook that she was "accosted by a very rude member of the privileged posse who are causing a ruckus over ordinance amendment #48" while she was at the transfer station.

She said the ordinance allowed people greater freedom to use their own property for living space and brings a relatively large percentage of existing properties into code compliance with setbacks and lot coverage regulations.

"I go to the transfer station to sort my recyclables and drop my trash, just like everyone else. I do not go there to be HARASSED. Manners are still free, I suggest everyone pick some up today," Magjik said in her post.

She said the person, whom she did not identify, was a fanatic who was telling people that the ordinance would allow the city to cut down trees on people's properties. She then posted laughing emojis.

"Please help stop the spread of hysteria. No one is coming to hand you a tiny house and/or cut down the trees in your yard," she concluded in her post.

A message was sent to Magjik Sunday asking for additional information on the incident, but she has not responded.

A supporter of the zoning overhaul, Tom Marshall Jr., maintained that the postcard was misleading because it showed a tiny house on wheels, a structure that would not be allowed in Rockland. He also maintained that the doubling of the density would not occur, since many lots are not 10,000 square feet and could not be subdivided.

Comments (17)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Feb 13, 2019 19:33

Councilor Geiger,

My sincere apologies.   I now have my foot in my mouth.  I will be paying close attention to this from now on.  It really irks me that a small group of people mailed out a very misleading flyer.   Most of them are well to do and can afford to do that.  I can not afford to send out a postcard that represents all the wonder and beautiful tiny houses that have been built.



Posted by: THOMAS MARSHALL, JR | Feb 12, 2019 22:20

Thanks Gerald, I used the window box.  Below is a copy and paste on a PC with a little editing too.  Hope this is readable.

I am too new here to know exactly what should and should not be done to benefit Rockland but I do know I do not at all like or trust an opposition group to any change that sends out a postcard that totally misrepresents the possible impacts of the zoning changes. A THOW, tiny house on wheels, pictured on that postcard is not an allowable dwelling in Rockland now and would still not be allowed if the new zoning had passed. Read the last paragraph of the Free Press article, dated January 31, 2019 for the proof.

And then simple math and a little knowledge of the city’s properties tells you that it is impossible for “The newly amended Zoning Ordinance doubles density by reducing lot size requirements by 50-60% allowing tiny houses to be 10 feet from the street in every zone.” to be true! This assumes every one of our properties has at least double the proposed minimum lot size and can be subdivided! I don’t have that much land, do you? There is very little vacant land for that to happen, almost all out more towards Old County road. The rest of us have developed properties and in the three zones closest to Main Street out almost to Old County Road each of us would have to have extra property that is at least the minimum lot size for the zone to subdivide that piece AND connect to the sewer system AND still be in compliance with the maximum building coverage of 40% or 60% on every lot. In these zones the maximum building coverage would not have changed with the new zoning changes. So every one of us property owners in A, AA and B would have to be able and want to do this to double the density. Again, not possible! Most of us in the three zones don’t have enough extra square feet to double the density.

And as for green space disappearing? Just do the math. To make a simple example I will use our 40% maximum building coverage zones. (Zone B would work out equal as well). That leaves a required minimum of 60% green space. So pretend five 10000sf properties are subdivided into ten 5000sf lots and the sewers are then connected with each of the new 5 lots and dwellings are added with the required 60% green space. Multiply 5 * 10,000 * 60% = 30,000sf green space. Multiply 10 * 5000 * 60% = 30,000sf green space. Even using the maximum building coverage there is no loss of green space! Then the next questions- “Who has enough property to do this?” and “Who would even want to go through this?”

Anyone who signed the petition on the basis of “the Tiny Houses are coming! the Tiny Houses are coming!” or “density will double!”, or “green space disappears!” were like the lemmings following the rest of the lemmings over the cliff. You need to find independent and unbiased information, or even better, do your own research. But you at least will have a next time to not be so impulsive with false information. I have seen what has happened along the Atlantic coastline over many years. Only the well off can live there up to and including Portland, Maine. It has happened a lot now in Portland and is working its way up the Maine coast now. Homes are not affordable for middle to low income and I can attest to friends and acquaintances moving out of Rockland for that reason. I fear we will become another exclusive, well-to-do retirement community.

I will watch for new meetings now and will pay particular attention to this opposition’s input and solutions and, given that postcard, research everything they say or ask for their proof if not provided.

Jeanne Marshall



Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Feb 12, 2019 19:56

Jeanne:

One other thought - did you write your comment in the window box, or somewhere else and then copy and paste it into the window box?



Posted by: THOMAS MARSHALL, JR | Feb 12, 2019 19:41

Thanks Ria, Apple Ipad.  Next time definitely will use a PC.  Was a long comment to have software make that mess.

Jeanne Marshall



Posted by: Ria Biley | Feb 12, 2019 18:52

Jeanne Marshall, are you using a MAC? That can usually be the cause. If you are using a PC, I have no idea. Hope this is helpful, even though I don't know how to fix it.



Posted by: Ian Emmott | Feb 12, 2019 18:00

Can the Gazette please contact Councilor Magjik and ask her to explain who/what the privileged possee is exactly?



Posted by: Tyler Southard | Feb 12, 2019 12:22

This should still go to a vote for Rockland citizens and let them decide instead of just following a small group of people's concerns to pursue action. As a young resident of the city, it feels wrong that the future of Rockland can be so easily swayed by older generations without a complete voice of our diverse community.



Posted by: THOMAS MARSHALL, JR | Feb 12, 2019 10:09

Obviously I am new at comments.  What causes all the quotes and apostrophes to be converted to that wierd capital A with a cap symbol?  Sorry readers........  I have never had this happen.

Jeanne Marshall



Posted by: THOMAS MARSHALL, JR | Feb 12, 2019 09:55

I am too new here to know exactly what should and should not be done to benefit Rockland but I do know I do not at all like or trust an opposition group to any change that sends out a postcard that totally misrepresents the possible impacts of the zoning changes.  That THOW, tiny house on wheels, pictured on that postcard is not an allowable dwelling in Rockland now and would still not be allowed if the new zoning had passed. Read the last paragraph of the Free Press article dated January 31, 2019 for the proof.

And then simple math and a little knowledge of the town’s properties tells you that it is impossible for “The newly amended Zoning Ordinance doubles density by reducing lot size requirements by 50-60% allowing tiny houses to be 10 feet from the street in every zone.” to be true!  This assumes every one of our properties have over 10,000sf now and can be subdivided!  I don’t have that, do you?  There is very little vacant land for that to happen, almost all out more towards Old County road.  The rest of us have developed properties and in the three zones closest to Main Street out almost to Old County Road each of us would have to have at least 5000 square feet extra to subdivide AND connect to the sewer system AND still be in compliance with the maximum building coverage of 40% or 60% on every lot. In these zones the maximum building coverage would not have changed with the new zoning changes. So every one of us property owners in A, AA abd B would have to be able and want to do this to double the density.  Again, not possible!  Most of us in the three zones don’t even have 5000 extra square feet to double the density.

And as for green space disappearing? Just do the math. To make a simple example I will use our 40% maximum building coverage zones. (Zone B would work out equal as well).  That leaves a required minimum of 60% green space.  So pretend five 10000sf properties are subdivided into ten 5000sf lots and the sewers are then connected with each of the new 5 lots and dwellings are added with the required 60% green space. Multiply 5 * 10,000 * 60% = 30,000sf green space. Multiply 10 * 5000 * 60% = 30,000sf green space. Even using the maximum building coverage there is no loss of green space!  Then the next questions- “Who has enough property to do this?“ and “Who would even want to go through this?”

Anyone who signed the petition on the basis of “the Tiny Houses are coming! the Tiny Houses are coming!” or “density will double!“, or “green space disappears!” were like the lemmings following the rest of the lemmimgs over the cliff.  You need to find independent and unbiased information, or even better, do your own research.  But you at least will have a next time to not be so impulsive with false information.  I have seen what has happened along the Atlantic coastline over many years.  Only the well off can live there up to and including Portland, Maine.  It has happened a lot now in Portland and is working it’s way up the Maine coast now.  Homes are not affordable for middle to low income and I can attest to friends and acquaintances moving out of Rockland for that reason.  I fear we will become another exclusive, well-to-do retirement community.

I will watch for new meetings now and will pay particular attention to this opposition’s input and solutions and, given that postcard, research everything they say or ask for their proof if not provided.

Jeanne Marshall



Posted by: Valli Genevieve Geiger | Feb 12, 2019 09:29

Valerie, I can assure you that we did our homework on small and tiny houses and house designs. I am a passionate believer in small houses, both as an environmental plus, using less materials and less energy to run, and also as a way of increasing the number of people who can afford to live in Rockland. The many Aging in Place conferences I have attended, list Accessory Dwelling units as one of the best alternatives for older people hoping to stay independent and remain in their communities. Unfortunately, we could not combat the belief that small house = poorly built house. It made more sense to pull back and do our work getting the community at large involved in this discussion. There are a few who benefit from the status quo, there are many who would benefit from change. But... change is hard. The postcard people received was very misleading, the tiny house pictured would not be allowed to be built in Rockland.



Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Feb 12, 2019 07:50

As I have suggested before, there is a zone that has been sitting in the City Manager's office for nearly nine years that will allow development of apartment buildings in areas that make sense. There is demand for market rate apartments; while I am not opposed to tiny houses, many 20- and 30-somethings simply can't afford to purchase them. As more and more houses that are de facto apartments are converted back to their original use as single family homes, demand will only increase.

The Neighborhood Business Zone (NBZ) was drafted as a result of the Walgreen's fiasco, after 18 months of work by the Comprehensive Planning Commission. While originally intended for the area around Maverick Square, this zone can be applied to other areas of the city (the south side of Park Street between Main and Broadway, for example). The City Council should waste no time in adopting this zone into the Ordinance.

You can find the NBZ here: https://www.scribd.com/document/395535159/Neighborhood-Business-Zone



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Feb 12, 2019 07:34

Sounds like Councilor Valli Geiger is following the OLD and not the new.  Shame.  She really should have done her home work on Tiny Houses.  There are so many designs that would fit into any neighborhood.  Tiny houses can be be permanently on a piece of land without out wheels.  I am upset to think the the city government did not research and do their home work. Did anyone in the city government do their homework?  People are forgetting that a tiny house plan has to pass codes, design, etc. before be built so why the opposition?  The city still would control what was being built.



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Feb 12, 2019 07:29

Heidi,

You are living in a tiny house.  It’s a shame that people did not do their homework and get information on all the designs out there on tiny houses.



Posted by: Heidi Ruth Locke | Feb 12, 2019 07:10

The historic district should remain intact at all cost!! That’s what is appealing to Rockland and it keeps the property up  instead of down. Tiny homes would ruin the character of the neighborhood, ruin the big beautiful yards and distroy the design permanently!

Buy some property and build your tiny house elsewhere! I live in a 700 sq ft log cabin that we built on18 acres in Union worth $120,000. Finished price.

I couldn’t afford Rockland, But I never wanted the character of the historic neighborhoods changed. As a result of my own forthcoming money issues. Tiny houses on Limerock and Talbot Avenue would do nothing but destroy the character and the beauty of the essence of Rockland!

Be creative and think outside of your boxed in mind! Don’t ruin the neighborhood, please!



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Feb 12, 2019 06:58

Short sited? It's about time the city councilors listened to the voters. We vote these people in office to serve in the best interest of all. I don't believe that Rockland is being saved by people moving here with more knowledge of how life should be. More people in the same space will not solve greed.



Posted by: Claire Adams | Feb 12, 2019 06:28

Too bad. So short sighted. Tiny houses are great for efficiency.

Moreover, less regulation on what we do with our property is an economic stimulus. No doubt, eventually, there will be an outcry from these same people on how we can attract young people to our small cities and towns.

Keep in mind that property values won’t be high if no one can afford to buy a large house, or they simply don’t want large climate killing house.. that will truly change the town’s character.

 



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Feb 12, 2019 03:49

Congratulations for dealing this is such a positive manner:

"Councilor Ed Glaser said he hoped the people who have voiced concern over the ordinance would work with city officials to come up with revisions that all can support."



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