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Smith seeks sustainable community, affordable housing

By Stephen Betts | Sep 26, 2020
Ryan Smith

Rockland — Ryan Smith said he wants Rockland to be a sustainable community that is welcoming to all, and remains an accessible place to all people.

Smith is one of five candidates seeking to serve on the Rockland City Council. There are two seats up for election Nov. 3.

The Tea Street resident is a certified personal trainer, gardener and naturalist. He comes from a commercial fishing family and has lived in Rockland since 1983. Smith said he attended eight different universities and held numerous jobs, such as working for an expert on mushrooms, marketing director for Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, in addition to working at his father's crabmeat processing plant that use to be on upper Park Street.

He estimates his one-tenth of an acre house lot produces $10,000 worth of crops.

"I want to keep Rockland a great place to live for future generations," he said.

Smith said he wants to secure affordable housing for residents. He said residents need to be educated about how to seek abatements.

"I want organize people who do not have power. When you don't have money, organizing is the only power you have," Smith said.

He said the city should focus on helping existing businesses prosper, rather than focusing on attracting new ones. He pointed out that more than a decade ago, there was a government program that provided money for crabmeat manufacturers in Waldo and Hancock counties, but not in Knox, and that placed his father's business at a disadvantage, and later had to shut down.

Smith said he supports a referendum on the Nov. 3 municipal ballot that would create a city minimum wage that would rise to $15 an hour by January 2024.

"If your business model is contingent on paying people less than a living wage, you need to think about your business model," Smith said.

He said he is not sure if government is always the best solution, but sometimes it is the only solution. Smith said that when he worked at the former IGA food store as a teenager, he was paid minimum wage and said if not for the minimum wage, he believes he would have been paid even less. He said he knew other students who worked to support their single mothers.

In terms of affordable housing, Smith said his neighborhood has become a commodity. He said residences are being bought up and turned into short-term rentals.

"The rental economy is sort of parasitic," he said, but praised fellow council candidate Ian Emmott for keeping his rents affordable. He said rentals by outside people is subsidizing their retirements.

"We have to promote an owner-occupied culture so we can be stewards to our lands," he said.

Smith said he supports increasing residential density in the city. He said the group that led a petition drive in 2019 to override a city council enacted ordinance to reduce minimum lot sizes, setbacks and minimum house size was led by a vocal minority.

He said those opponents to more residential density used terms such as character of the neighborhood, which he said was obscure.

"Neighborhoods are living dynamic systems that need to be changed to allow them to have balance and be sustainable," Smith said.

To address the concern of increased storm water runoff from infill construction, he said there are proven ways to deal with that, such as use of vegetation.

In terms of dealing with an expected decrease in revenues, Smith called for looking at micro-efficiencies. He cited the example of public services watering plants during a drought on a morning when a frost was predicted.

"We have to look at ways we live our lives and how we conduct business," he said.

Smith said he supports in-person meetings. He said a lot of nuance is lost when there are not in-person meetings.

The candidate said he supports local police. He also cited an instance when he felt Rockland police were too aggressive in responding to a call, and another time when they resolved it by communicating with an individual. He said the city should not hire war veterans who have a history of escalating conflicts.

In regard to the downtown section of Main Street being reduced to one lane to allow businesses to set up shop outside, he had a mixed reaction. He said there was a problem of pedestrians crossing everywhere, not at crosswalks.

"I love the idea of walkable communities and biker friendly road systems. Main Street is nucleus of communities across the country," he said.

Smith voiced opposition to the city continuing to contract with the Pen Bay YMCA for providing recreation services.

"It's a public Rockland institution. I don't a think a private entity based in the Camden-Rockport area should be managing a public Rockland institution," Smith said.

Smith said he has conflicted feelings on cruise ships, saying they are massive dinosaurs that consume resources and spread diseases.

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