Rockland gives initial OK to law to regulate group homes

By Stephen Betts | Jun 24, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Suzanne MacDonald speaks Monday evening, June 24, concerning the need for an ordinance to regulate group homes. She voiced concern about the proposed reentry program for recently released prisoners that would be located on Talbot Avenue.

Rockland — The Rockland City Council gave unanimous preliminary approval Monday evening, June 24, to an ordinance that would require city review of group homes.

The ordinance's creation was prompted by a proposal to create a reentry house for recently released prisoners at 215 Talbot Ave.

A formal public hearing and possible final vote were scheduled for Monday, July 15.

Fifteen people, mostly Talbot Avenue residents, spoke out in support of the ordinance, with many also asking the City Council to impose a moratorium on group homes like the reentry house.

Former Mayor Brian Harden said the reentry house would harm the neighborhood and also because of the controversy could harm reentry programs across the state.

The ordinance to require review of group homes was put forth by Councilor Valli Geiger.

"This proposed ordinance is not an attempt to prevent group homes, but to require that same city oversight required for boarding houses and short-term rentals: annual permit, community engagement, inspection and neighborhood notification and input before an occupancy permit is issued," Geiger said Sunday.

At the June 24 meeting, Geiger voiced concern about the high recidivism rate for released prisoners. She also said she thought the code officer had misinterpreted the existing ordinance in ruling that the project fell under single-family homes.

Geiger said this was a stopgap measure. She said the city attorney had advised the City Council that it could not adopt a moratorium to stop this project.

Jake Barbour of the Life Ministry voiced support for such group homes, pointing out that his organization operates one on Limerock Street. Barbour pointed out that the City Council adopted a diversity resolve to protect people on the margins of society and that these released prisoners fall into that category.

Kathryn Matlack of Camden created Freedom Path LLC, which purchased 215 Talbot Ave. in Rockland June 3.

Numerous residents of Talbot Avenue spoke out at the June 10 meeting of the Rockland City Council, concerned about having recently released prisoners moving into the home, but also unhappy about the lack of notice from Matlack. Neighbors only learned of the plan after the house had been bought by Freedom Path.

Matlack, a Camden resident, issued a brief statement June 11 about the project, but said she was not prepared to talk about why there had been no notification to neighbors before she purchased the property.

She said June 11 that hundreds of men get released from prison each year and they are already our neighbors but we are not aware. She said these men are in need of housing, transportation and other support, pointing out that housing is incredibly hard for them to find.

Matlack said at that time she was trying to arrange for a meeting with the community and was trying to find facilitators for a respectful and safe meeting.

The home had been owned by Genevieve Sprinkle of Portland, who had received a city permit in 2017 to use the home as a short-term rental. The house has 14 rooms, including four bedrooms, according to city assessment records.

City councilors were receptive at the June 10 meeting to considering action to meet the concerns of residents, including considering a moratorium.

Matlack told the city's code officer in an email earlier this month that the plan is to have a live-in manager and to begin taking in residents in mid-July.

"Unity House is committed to working closely with probation officers and other social service providers in order to ensure that we are proactively addressing the substance abuse, education, employment, mental health and criminal justice issues confronting each individual resident," she stated.

People convicted of sex offenses or arson will not be accepted into the program, she stated. People with "intense" mental health or substance abuse problems also will not be qualified for the program, she stated in the email.

The ordinance that gained preliminary approval also amended the definition of family to include no more than four people in the same house and requires not only that they share kitchen and bathroom facilities but also housing expenses.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Jun 26, 2019 13:21

Communities need group homes for many many different types of groups.  However, Ms. Matlack seemed like she was trying to "sneak" one in without informing the neighbors or city officials.  I am in favor of passing this ordinance.   I do not believe that the city is telling the community that there will no group homes, but there will be a process in place to assure the community that it will placed in the best setting possible.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jun 25, 2019 09:11

It is comforting to know your city council is busy at work stacking sand bags to hold back the flood waters after the storm has already passed.

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