Rockland eyes McLain School, downtown for more housing

By Stephen Betts | Dec 04, 2017
Photo by: Stephen Betts The city will consider whether the McLain School can be converted into housing.

Rockland — Mayor Valli Geiger is ramping up the effort to deal with the city's lack of affordable housing by considering the possible use of the McLain School and the upper stories of downtown buildings for residences.

Geiger is sponsoring an agenda item for the Rockland City Council's Dec. 11 meeting to create an ad-hoc housing task force.

One subcommittee of the task force would look at converting the McLain School into housing.

The three-story brick building was built in 1896 and served as an elementary school and later as administrative offices and the center for alternative and adult education for the Rockland-area school district.

The Regional School Unit 13 Board voted in January to offer the building to Rockland. State law gives municipalities first option when a school is no longer being used.

City and school officials toured the building March 8. And May 8, the City Council voted to accept the building once the school district is no longer using it.

In May, then-Acting City Manager Audra Caler Bell said Penquis and a couple of other private housing developers had asked to be informed when the city begins looking to solicit proposals for use of the building.

Penquis Housing Director Jason Bird said at that time the McLain building could provide an opportunity to help address Rockland's workforce housing shortage.

Another subcommittee of the proposed Rockland task force would review the use of upper floors of downtown buildings for residences and what steps the city could take to assist in further redeveloping the upper stories into residences.

Yet another subcommittee would look at enacting "reasonable regulations for so-called tiny houses."

In neighboring Rockport, the town Planning Board held a pre-application meeting in August to hear plans by the Hospitality House on Old County Road to build a number of tiny houses on land at the homeless shelter. The proposed houses there would be 290 square feet.

Habitat is also looking to build approximately 12 one- and two-bedroom houses on Philbrick Avenue in Rockland, land the nonprofit housing organization purchased in January. A Habitat representative met with the city last month on the project. No application has yet been filed with the city to develop the land on the street, which is off Camden Street.

The lack of affordable housing has been considered one of the most pressing problems facing Rockland during the past decade.

The number of committee members has not been determined and a timetable for when the committees should issue recommendations has not been established.

Comments (8)
Posted by: Dale Hayward | Dec 04, 2017 18:37

Frances: How negative of you. That is generally left for me. ha.ha.ha. I do not believe the apartments formed on Main Street would be very affordable and you are correct, massive parking problems. (parking garages at taxpayer expense) Perhaps anyone with any sense will look at the tax rate but how about the poor people who bought their homes when thinks almost made sense and the taxes were somewhat manageable and now stuck with the high taxes we have so that we can build the mountain of trash, and as you say, build another park. At least the tree huggers should plants some trees at the old school site so that they can join hands at least once a year and sing kumbaya and and paint some more art for Main Street.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Dec 04, 2017 17:11

I agree with Kendall that some well paying jobs are needed. Along with apartments on Main Street second and third stories will be the creation of parking problems. We had some land available at the McDougal School but that was passed over so we could have an unneeded park. Anyone with any sense buying a house will look at the tax rate and realize Rockland is not much of a bargain. Apartment buildings use more services than a single family home but pay the same mill rate.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Dec 04, 2017 16:17

Anna: The use of the upper floors on Main Street may be of interest, but, with the harbor view they will not come cheap. Also, I suspect the cost to make them pass muster at the code office will be costly. Why do you suppose these floors are not being used and have not for years. Some yes, but, far from all, from my limited knowledge of having not actually checked them out recently. I can remember when I had my store on Main Street, Madeline and other landlords preferred to leave the second and upper floors unused for the additional taxes, cost of renovating and so on.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Dec 04, 2017 13:19

Yes, our town needs affordable housing, but plans to pay for renovations of older stock buildings - without increasing property taxes -  should be first priority. Potential senior citizen apartment dwellers would find climbing and descending steep stairways in Main Street buildings prohibitive. What about potential housing in the old high school - now the Lincoln Street Center? There is already a new elevator. The owner owes mucho tax $$ to the city, so liens need to be imposed and the city will likely own that building again, having only gained $60,000 on its sale to another owner, who could not keep up with renovations.

Wonder if the city admin. has the cart before the horse. Council wants to attract newcomers to Rockland with housing. Young newcomers are attracted by good-paying jobs, of which there are very few in this area. Retirees are attracted to cheaper housing they can afford. The Rockland Historical Society regularly has new retirees coming to the Society for info. about their newly acquired retirement homes. People need good paying jobs and then they can afford housing. If you're working minimum wage, a house is way beyond any "American Dream."

Posted by: ananur forma | Dec 04, 2017 11:58

oopps! just read it again. yes, I see Dale. top floors of Main Street buildings could be renovated into housing for low income needs people. yes, great idea. do it.

Posted by: ananur forma | Dec 04, 2017 11:55

I picture the McLain School on Lincoln Street. what ocean view, from the top floor? maybe I've got the wrong address?

Anyway, I think it's a great idea and I encourage more ideas like this .we do need housing for people. no one ought be without "home," clothing, or food. no one. AIO is doing a great job of supplying food!!!!!

Posted by: ananur forma | Dec 04, 2017 11:52

maybe the Samoset ought to consider providing housing for their workers? I understand they do not pay well, but think they do because they offer the spa and discounts (how much?) on the shop.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Dec 04, 2017 08:13

I wonder if the property owners of those classy downtown artsy buildings with the harbor view are going to jump right into renting them for low income housing. Maybe convert the shabby chic hotel will have rooms available also. Harbor view? I doubt it. But then again is the mayor speaking at the will of the entire council? I wonder? I doubt it. Maybe some more art galleries would bring in better rent.

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