ROCKLAND – “All I was looking to do in this ordinance was to say ‘you don’t have to have the deck,’” Rockland Mayor Valli Geiger said in defense of her proposed amendment to an existing accessory-building policy (# 1 Ch. 19, Secs. 19-302 &19-304 Accessory Dwelling Units).
“I thought it was a small change. If other people feel differently, by all means, that is why we have a first reading and a second reading,” she said during the Jan. 8 Rockland City Council meeting.
Rockland currently allows private property owners to convert their garages into little houses, provided that the accessory building is in some way connected to the primary residence, according to Geiger.
One of Geiger’s neighbors took advantage of the ordinance to build a deck between the house and garage in order to create a small living space for her 90-year-old mother.
However, various citizens interpreted Geiger’s amendment as a new ordinance allowing in-fill within the City.
“What’s the hurry?” said Gary Sousa, data manager for the Rockland Heart and Soul project, which has heard from 130 residents so far. Sousa also said he watched previous council meetings as well as obtained the results of the Comprehensive Planning Board’s larger resident survey.
“In the countless hours I’ve spent so far entering the results of the interviews, I’ve not found one individual who has expressed support for in-fill, or for the introduction of tiny homes into the Rockland landscape,” he said. “In fact, when the topic is brought up by interviewees, it is something that they do not want.”
Cheryl Michaelson of the Berry Manor Inn said, “A committee empowered by the city council had just finished a presentation stating that a significant number of Rockland residents are concerned about in-fill and density, and how and where it should take place.”
Michaelson said that the three ordinances on the agenda, if enacted, could significantly change the way the neighborhoods look in the future.
Two of the ordinances included decreasing minimum lot sizes in certain zones, and decreases front setbacks from 20 feet to 10 feet. (#24 Ch. 19, Sec. 19-304 TB1 Min Lot Area/Size – Dwelling Units (Post. 10/11/17) and # 2 Ch. 19, Sec. 19-304 TB 2&3 Min Lot Area/Size – Dwellings).
The decrease in front setback would allow a particular resident who wished to return a large front porch to a house, but couldn’t because of the ordinance. The porch had been removed in the 1960s or 70s when Rockland residents wanted to appear more suburban, according to Geiger.
However, as Councilor Ed Glaser pointed out, reducing setbacks might hinder future instillation of sidewalks, which was the top priority expressed by the recent Comprehensive Planning Commission survey.
The decrease in lot size for certain zones follows previous resident and council promote mixed use along the habitable side of Camden Street north of McDonald's.
“We are definitely not going to push things against what residents want,” Geiger said. “But I believe our job on council is not simply to tally up, on every question – direct democracy – what the vote is. Our job is also to be looking to the future.
“We have 200 people on a waiting list at the shelter. Not waiting for housing. Waiting for shelter in a homeless shelter. And we have hundreds more looking. I think we are called to do something. I think the future of our city is at stake.”
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