ROCKLAND — An ordinance passed by Rockland City Council that then prompted residents to seek a citizen’s referendum has been rescinded. In announcing the retraction, however, the sponsor of the ordinance spoke of a desire to immediately start anew.
In the beginning moments of the Monday, Feb. 11, City Council meeting, Councilor Valli Geiger, sponsor for Ordinance No. 48: Lot sizes and Setbacks, announced the retraction of the bill, which the council approved in January.
According to several residents, that bill, created to modify zoning requirements and setbacks, went before the council without proper public notification, and would introduce widespread, sweeping changes.
Opponents, who’ve increased the number of signatures for their citizen’s referendum from 477 to 654 in one week, expressed doubt as to how long the topic of in-fill will remain tabled.
“I understand the reluctance to move forward,” Geiger said. “From my perspective – with all due respect – I believe that you are fighting the last war.”
Geiger spoke of having moved to Midcoast Maine in the late 1970s, at a time when the city was in decline. She acknowledged the part that leaders of that time played in “bringing the city back from a pretty bad place.”
She continued: “I would also argue, though, that the other thing that they created – the opportunity for revitalization – was the influx of artists, creatives, makers, young entrepreneurs who are always seeking cheap space, studio space, and cheap places to live.”
It was the artists’ participation in the city that provided the city with another opportunity to re-emerge into what many consider “the art capital of Maine,” according to her.
Geiger said: “We now are not the Rockland of the 70s and 80s. We are, in fact, at a fork in the road. We face two decisions: we can choose to stay as we are, and what we can expect over the next 20 years is an increase in gentrification in Rockland. To have Rockland go from the scrappy town it is, with multiple income ranges, multiple kinds of people, locals who have been here forever, and brand new people. To a community that is very wealthy, very insular, and very staid. That as we continue to see valuations on our property increase as we decrease the opportunity to welcome young people, entrepreneurs, makers and creators to our community because they are priced out.”
Geiger made her announcement just before several opponents of the bill were due to speak from the public podium. Though many in the audience expressed surprise and gratification at the rescinding, they chose to voice their opinions regardless.
“This has been going on before, and was stopped,” said Barry Faber. “Going on before, and was stopped. Going on again.... There’s no guarantee that this wont be brought up again.”
And Phyllis Merriam told council that she is not wealthy, insular, or staid.
Geiger said she sees a future in which Rockland starts a spiral. That property taxes will increase in valuation, a loss of the elderly, who are on fixed incomes, of young adults, and other positive aspects of the city.
“I don’t know that Ordinance 48 got it right,” Geiger said. “but I believe strongly that we must, if Rockland is to stay a vibrant place, we must find a way to continue to welcome, and make space for makers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and young.”
Geiger concluded by asking everyone who fought in opposition to help figure out residents’ investments and concerns, while keeping Rockland vibrant.