ROCKLAND — Rockland residents voiced anger toward City Council, Monday, Feb. 4, following the Council’s January vote enacting a zoning ordinance which changes lot sizes and setbacks. Several of the residents who spoke during the Monday agenda-setting meeting were part of a group that has since started a petition calling for a citizen’s referendum.
The ordinance is several pages, categories by zone and conditional use as residential, commercial, inn/hotel, etc. Visit the City Council agenda packet attachment below for more details.
Some residents, including Phyllis Merriam, stated that very few Rockland residents were aware of the ordinance, and that it violates the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
Others, such as Planning Board member Carol Maines, demanded that Council provide notice to the public, but also stated that the language still needs to be adequately drafted, and doesn’t define ‘in-fill.’
As written, she said: “Most of Pen Bay Acres is non-conforming.”
In response the room’s overall anger, Councilor Valli Geiger said: “There may well be work that needs to be done on that. But to say that it’s a surprise that sprung, I just have to disagree with that.”
Geiger told the audience that the discussion has been ongoing for at least three years, with at least four or five public workshops.
Citizens in the meeting room, in turn, interrupted her explanation, saying “that’s not true,” and “That’s a lie.”
According to Geiger, a subcommittee met monthly for several months in open sessions, with meeting minutes posted to the City website. That subcommittee then presented its findings to Council, who then had a discussion, a public hearing, and a vote.
“That’s not to say that we got it right,” Geiger said. “That’s not to say there isn’t work to be done....
“All I can say is, since I’ve been a councilor, since I’ve been on the Comprehensive Plan, I have had so many citizens come to me and say ‘this is one of the hardest cities to do business in. It’s one of the hardest cities to buy a house in. It’s one of the hardest cities to renovate in. Because when I go to change something, to add a porch, to add a deck, to add an addition over the garage, I discover that I have what is called a Non-Conforming Lot where my street frontage is not wide enough, not long enough, or my side setbacks, my front setbacks, my rear setbacks don’t meet code.’”
The audience remained unconvinced.
Merriam is one of the 19 Rockland residents who started the petition, Monday, Jan. 28, attempting to force a citizen’s referendum to amend Ordinance No. 48: Lot sizes and Setbacks.
Only five signatures are needed to establish a petition, according to fellow petitioner, Adele Grossman Faber.
“Three people on the Council have affected the lives of 7,200 residents in Rockland,” Merriam said from the podium. “It’s my belief that if the City is planning to pass or discuss ordinances that affect the whole city of Rockland, every neighborhood, that it should go to citizen’s referendum.”
Merriam called for the City to provide education to citizens prior to that June referendum.
Grossman Faber said that the ordinance as a “sweeping zone change,” and “extreme changes.”
As of Monday, Feb. 4, the petition carries 447 signatures of a necessary 523. Deadline is March 12 in order to be added to the June 11 referendum.
During the January 7 agenda-setting meeting, Former Councilor and Mayor Richard Warner told council that Rockland has never been subject to suburban changes in the past, though “it’s true for Waldo Avenue, Samoset Road, and Acadia Drive, and have suburban setback requirements.”
In terms of the rest of Rockland, Warner said to leave the zoning alone.
“Most of Rockland residential areas are pre-1940,” he said. “In fact, the housing stock can be considered pre-1900. They were built by standards that were comfortable and recommended by Victorian architecture. The best thing to do with Rockland zoning is to leave it as it is. It’s there for a reason. We like it the way it is.
“To plunk these things down – These tiny houses in developed neighborhoods is wrong,” he said. “It will hurt people financially. And it will hurt people in their attitude toward Rockland altogether.”
On the flip side, another resident told council during the January meeting, that “the cost of housing is far out stripping the inflation rate. Average price is rapidly approaching $200,000 per unit.
“This ordinance brings roughly 300-plus properties into compliance. That’s 10 percent of the existing housing stock of this city. The demand is there. It’s growing. It’s getting worse.”
The objective is also to provide a way for people to age in place. One way to do that, according to the speaker, is to make uses more consistent across all of the zones.
Said Marcel Valliere: “These are changes that will allow people to make modifications to homes. And to allow for family members to live in their house, or to put in a first floor bedroom where they may not have been able so they can age in place. There are a lot of elements of this complex amendment that are really designed to keep the Rockland residents that are here and happy, able to live in their homes in Rockland, and stay here.”