Rockland citizen files court complaint appealing City Council’s zoning vote
ROCKLAND — Unhappy with the Rockland City Council 3 to 1 vote Jan. 14 to approve a zoning change to lot sizes and setbacks in a five city zones, a resident has filed an appeal in Knox County Superior Court, calling the new rules a “stunning and unpredictable zoning change.”
James Ebbert, who is represented by Attorney Paul Gibbons, in Camden, said in his Jan. 28 complaint that the vote violated the city’s comprehensive plan, and that: “The City Council did not adopt the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plarming Commission to continue the vote on Zoning Amendment 48 until there is time to resolve the problems with the present zoning amendment....”
He also maintains that citizens were inadequately informed of the public hearing on the zoning proposal.
(See attached PDF for the full complaint)
Ebbert said in an accompanying position statement Rockland citizens had not been properly notified of the pending discussion about Zoning Amendment 48, and that the process for rezoning was completed without professional input.
“Saying it politely, City Council hid from the public, as best it could, what was coming by hiding a vaguely-worded notice in the paper,” he wrote, in his statement. “The entire process was without professional input. The City does not have a City Planner, an experienced professional who has spent years dealing with and advising on issues arising when a city-wide rezoning doubles density in all neighborhoods.”
He questioned how increasing the density in certain neighborhoods would affect sewer and water infrastructure, as well as drainage and surface water run-off, traffic, fire safety, and the character of neighborhoods.
“Suing the City was the last thing I wanted to do,” Ebbert said, in an email. “In the attached white paper, I explain why I did it and why I think Ordinance 48 is unjust.” (See attached PDF for his statement)
On Jan. 14, the City Council voted 3 to 1 to approve zoning amendment 48 despite the objections of the city’s Comprehensive Planning Commission.
The matter followed consideration of other zoning changes to the city zones, which the Planning Commission had endorsed. However, the final one, No. 48, drew this Dec. 27, 2018 comment from the Planning Commission:
“The Comprehensive Planning Commission recommends postponing the vote on Ordinance Amendment 48, With a vote of one in favor, two opposed and two undecided, the Commission members were unable to reach a consensus.
“With the City of Rockland Comprehensive Plan, as amended Dec. 14, 2011 and March 14, 2012, does address the strategy of encouraging new infill development, it is very specific as to which zones and repeatedly mentions ‘infill which reflects the existing character of the neighborhood.
“Allowing accessory dwellings and reducing the lots sizes in every residential zone is not consistent with the plan.”
The amendment 48, called “Lot Sizes and Setbacks,” makes many adjustments and changes to the city’s Chapter 19 Zoning and Planning regulations, and allows for more dwelling units, smaller lots, and more conditional uses.
The Jan. 14 vote to approve, with three council members in favor and Ed Glaser opposition it (Ben Dorr was absent), goes into effect Feb. 13.
The zoning changes were hotly debated at recent Council meetings, with some supporting the amendment, saying it would ease housing shortages in the city while others said the changes were too much, too fast.
Ebbert’s complaint states:
“This is a sweeping zoning change affecting no less than five zoning districts in the City of Rockland, to wit: Zone AA, Zone A, Zone B, Zone RRl,and Zone RR2. These zoning districts constitute the population center of theCity of Rockland. The proposed zoning amendment doubles the density of the minimum lot size requirement in each of these zoning districts, decreases street front and rear setback by more than 50 percent in each zone.
“This zoning amendment allows for Tiny Houses—Detached Dwelling Units of less than 800 square feet as a conditional use in all five zoning districts regardless of the sizeof the lot. This is a stunning and unpredictable zoning change.”
Ebbert also takes issue with the manner of notification by the city of the hearing and vote.
“The City Council had a public hearing and a few minutes after the public hearing they voted to approve this zoning amendment. The City Council gave almost no notice of this public hearing and this sweeping zoning change to its citizens.”
He continued: “Title 30-A MRSA 4352 requires the City to advertise this public hearing at least twice in a newspaper of local circulation. The City placed an advertisement in the December 20, 2018 edition of the Courier Gazette. TheCity's advertisement did not appear in the legal public notice section of the paper. Instead, it appeared in the ‘Sports & Community’ section of the newspaper. The notice was hidden.
“The wording of City's newspaper advertisement did not begin to inform voters of the scope and size of the proposed ordinance amendment. It stated only that this was a zoning amendment concerning lot sizes, coverages, permitted uses, prohibited uses, and conditional uses. Nowhere in the notice did it describe the enormous increase in density of residential lots and the allowance of Tiny Houses in all five zoning districts.”
“The Appellant seeks this Court to order that the City of Rockland's approval of Zoning Amendment 48, a zoning ordinance amendment pertaining to lots sizes, setbacks and small houses in zoning districts AA, A, B, RRl and RR2 is null and void for failure to comply with the statutory newspaper publication requirements for a public hearing set forth in 30-AM.R.S.A. § 4352 (9) (A) (B) and to award the Appellant such other and further relief as this Court deems appropriate.”
On Jan. 29, the city of Rockland circulated notice of an emergency meeting scheduled for Jan. 30 in Council Chambers, a meeting that is to be held in executive session to discuss pending litigation.
While the notice does not, by law, reference Ebbert’s complaint, the meeting does follow his filing in Knox County Superior Court.
Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot,com; 207-706-6657