On the issues: Rockland City Council Candidate Penelope York

Wed, 11/02/2022 - 8:45am
    Four candidates are competing for two open seats on the Rockland City Council, with elections set for Nov. 8. Both seats represent three-year terms. Those running for office are Nathan Davis, Adam Lachman, Steven MacDonald and Penelope York. Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their positions on issues. Here, candidate Penelope York responds:
    Please provide a concise biography of yourself.
    I was born right here in Rockland at the Old Knox Hospital, the predecessor of Pen Bay.  I spent my earlier years on North Haven, staring from the beaches of Crabtree Point across Penobscot Bay at Rockland, thinking that it was such a beautiful city...bustling with so much life and excitement. 
    I longed for that kind of excitement, and that became a reality when my family moved to Rockland at the start of my Freshman year in High School.  I was a decent student, not a great basketball player, a member of the National Honor Society, and always a positive, engaged kid who was excited to try new things.
    After high school, I traveled a lot, worked some truly difficult essential or frontline jobs, and joined MBNA in 2003 as a Customer Service agent on the phone.
    Since that time frame, I have worked in several different states, attended college and absolutely scraped my way up a very steep incline to become a Senior Vice President at Bank of America. 
    Today, I not only manage multi-million dollar projects annually, but I am widely known in an Enterprise of 50,000 plus employees as the subject matter expert for the work that I lead.  I didn't know a single thing about the technology that I lead when I first started, but took the time to ask hard questions, and understand the experiences of each person who needed to use what I was building. 
    I have never walked into a room thinking that I had any answers, only prepared to listen and truly care about every person, no matter their role or station.
    Within the past nine years, my husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to come home to Rockland with our 8-year old-son, Jackson.  It is truly a dream come true to be able to raise him in Rockland, where we feel safe and well supported in our community.  I'm excited to have the chance to serve Rockland in a way that will help create more opportunities for him as he grows up here.  
    What are Rockland's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to support them?
    Rockland's greatest strengths include not just the people and strong sense of community, but our heritage that stretches back for generations. 
    I think it is critically important as we think of ways to improve life in Rockland for all residents to pay respect to where we have been, and ensure that this isn't forgotten.  As we think about city planning, development, revitalization efforts (think of the Flannagan Community Center), it's important for the community to have the opportunity to participate in ways to honor the past and move forward in ways that feel cohesive.
    What are Rockland's greatest issues to address?
    Rockland has done a fantastic job of identifying opportunities for improvement that align to our strategic plan, including housing, overall sustainability, opportunities within zoning and code, public infrastructure, economic and community vitality.  As I see it, our biggest challenge is that we seem to fall short on funding and execution of plans. There are very realistic approaches to these problems if we create a more agile method for prioritizing, sizing and delivering success, and sharing it with the community. 
    Is the Rockland Police Department on the right course, and does it integrate well into the community?
    I do believe that the Rockland Police Department is on the right course.  Chief Carroll is a trusted and valued member of the community, and his willingness to participate in community discussions and committees demonstrates his desire to be transparent and embrace the needs of the community.  
    I think the RPD have a number of wonderful programs they either lead or participate in like (this list is not exhaustive) Meals on Wheels, Sledding with a Cop, Project Child Safe, Bicycle Safety Rodeo, and Brain Freeze, which my family has personally benefited from.  Just last week, they participated in a diaper drive for AIO at Hannaford with other local police departments, which also demonstrates a welcome cross-town collaboration that benefits all local communities.  
    Is internet access to citizens adequate and affordable?  If not, how would you make it so? (According to the census, 85.9 percent of households have a computer.) 
    I am aware that the free internet access provided via the affordable connectivity program for qualifying homes during the pandemic has ended.  That being said, there are still discounts available that make it more affordable for customers. 
    I do believe that Rockland coverage is good, but it should be a priority to ensure that every house has access to it, should they want it. 
    Additionally,  Rockland Main street should offer free WiFi to ensure people without a permanent address have a way to access services, apply for jobs, and to be able to communicate with support systems. Internet needs to be viewed as a utility, and not a luxury.
    What is your vision for Rockland Harbor given the increased demand for real estate, and Maine’s longtime goal to protect the working waterfront?
    First and foremost, I think that it's important to recognize the work of the members of the Community driven Heart and Soul committee. This committee, composed solely of volunteers, created a specific statement that captures the essence of how the community feels, and we should try to use that as a jumping point to get a very specific direction. 
    Currently, only one of Rockland's zones (WF-1) is zoned strictly for more traditional waterfront uses, while other zones allow for hotels, residential and commercial uses. The most critical components to consider would be:

    - Reviewing all of the zones to ensure that the wording really does adequately outline uses and protect the waterfront
    - Create policies that preserve marine uses and incentivize marine related and non-marine compatible related uses 
    - Create waterfront access requirements for future development projects 
    How best should Rockland address the current housing shortage? According to the census, the city’s population is just a few hundred fewer than the 2010 census of 7,297. 
    According to the same census, approximately 76% of Rockland's workforce live outside of Rockland in neighboring communities.
    And at that time, the average weekly wage for someone employed in Rockland was $781, compared to $844 statewide.  These facts really illustrate the opportunity to address housing that fits the needs of those wage earners, so that we can keep them in this community.  Creating opportunities for studio, one and two bedroom apartment complexes is something that Rockland can do to address this gap.
    The Belfast Council approved last April new zoning ordinances  to create additional opportunities for housing, including ‘flex housing,’ an approach that could allow a property owner to construct one or more single-family, two-family, three-family or four-family houses on their property. Should Rockland consider something similar?
    The zoning change was passed in accordance with LD 2003, which allows accessory dwellings to be built on lots that were previously zoned for single family housing.  This has a statewide impact. 
    What Rockland should do immediately is to take advantage of the grants available and technical assistance from the state that will assist in revising zoning regulations to comply with this update, and to ensure that we are creating guardrails that align with our goals for land usage, power grid stability, and waste management. Furthermore, once those changes have been made, the city should look for opportunities to incentivize every homeowner who takes advantage of this change.
    How shall Rockland best manage short term rentals?
    Rockland, like many other coastal communities, has had to learn the fine balance of short-term rental management with little room for making mistakes.  Traditionally, this type of arrangement has been perfect for families who have a history in the Midcoast area, and want to spend some time here in the summer, but would not be able to afford to swing a second home.
    I feel that putting restrictions, including a cap on rentals, creates something that has to then become "policed" and does not align with the welcoming spirit of this community.  However, the needs of the community and the passionate debate that we have recently heard absolutely indicates that more discussion is needed, and that the citizens of Rockland should have an opportunity to vote on how short term rentals are managed.
    A recent revaluation resulted in higher home valuations and taxes. How will you help those homeowners facing a precipitous increase in property taxes?
    As a homeowner in Rockland, I definitely felt angst at the increase, as well.  I think a few actionable first steps are:

    • -Look at city owned land for opportunities to create smaller homes / mobile home communities.  Additional homeownership opportunities not only alleviates the pressure on housing, but creates additional opportunities to spread the tax burden out over a larger population of homeowners.
    • -Engagement with local representatives to understand what we can do to increase the state funding for our schools
    • -Consider local lodging taxes and paid parking  to create additional revenue 
    • -Actively take advantage of relationships with cruise lines to offset maintenance costs for necessary repairs and upgrades to our town docks, avoiding future increases in taxes.  
    Is the city on the right path in developing its public walkways and bicycle infrastructure?
    Yes, I believe we are.  I think there is opportunity to create additional bike paths and walkways that circumvent the Camden Street/ Maverick Street intersections and open up the Eastern end of town and Pen Bay Acres neighborhood to the rest of downtown.
    Does the city have enough public access to the ocean and lakes?
    I would love to see more public access from the end of Front street over to Jameson Point.  That whole section of shorefront feels almost off limits to me, and that should not be the case.
    What is the importance of local government, and how do you see yourself, as a city councilor, in it?
    Local city government, to me, is absolutely critical in ensuring that the heartbeat of the community is directly connected to planning, growth and development.  I see myself as I truly am today, curious, nonpartisan, and dedicated to ensuring that everyone's voice is well represented.  I have loved Rockland my whole life, and it would be an honor to serve the people.
    How do you see Rockland fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like develop that?
    Rockland has always been a diverse, eclectic place with a selection of everything that you need.  I honestly worry about losing businesses to other surrounding towns, and believe it is in our best interest to work more closely with the planning in Camden, Rockport and Thomaston. 
    In conversations that I have had with other Rockland residents recently, they share the same concerns.  Let's understand why businesses leave, and attract ones that support our desire to maintain a working waterfront. 
    Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Rockland community?  
    Ever since I was a teenager roaming around Rockland on my own, I have always loved Main Street.  It really transforms depending on the time of year and the weather... There's so much to love! 
    Some of my favorites are: Friday night Art walks in Summer, Dancing right in the middle of the street at the Solstice parade, Christmas shopping under all of the lights and the crunch of new snow on the sidewalk. 
    The Breakwater, and all Rockland beaches are a big hit for the eight year old in my life who enjoys chucking big rocks into the water.
    Also, Ada's...have you had their Chicken Parm?  Seriously.
    Free space! Anything else you'd like to say to the voters that we haven’t considered?
    I would just like to take a moment to thank my family and friends for their unwavering support.  I have learned so much about myself and this amazing community during this time, and I am full of so much joy and gratitude.  
    Also, thanks to you, right now for taking the time to read this!