In an attempt to free up more housing opportunities in the city, Rockland city councilors have revamped the city’s residential zoning standards despite concerns from residents who say the changes will harm the fabric of existing neighborhoods.
The changes reduce minimum lot size, frontage and setback requirements, as well as minimum square footage requirements for homes in all three of the city’s residential zones. They also allow for detached apartments as a conditional use in each of the zones.
The new zoning requirements eliminate the city’s 750-square-foot minimum requirement on homes and adopt the Maine Residential Building Code for single and two-family homes, which allows for tiny houses under 400 square feet.
City councilors gave the final OK to the zoning amendments Monday night by a 3-1 vote.
Councilor Ed Glaser was the only one who voted against the changes. Glaser said after hearing the concerns from residents in attendance at Monday night’s meeting that councilors should postpone a vote until they could give it more consideration.
The changes to residential zoning requirements were recommended by the city’s housing task force, which was formed last year to look at ways Rockland could increase its housing stock.
While proponents of the changes say the new requirements bring many existing lots and homes into compliance with zoning standards, a number of residents voiced concern that the changes will lead to infill.
“I think you are going too far, too fast,” resident Brian Harden said. The changes “will cause real disruption in the city.”
In two of the city’s residential zones, minimum lot sizes were cut in half. In Zone A, the minimum lot size was reduced from 10,000 square feet for sewered lots to 5,000 square feet. In Zone AA, the minimum lot size was reduced from 20,000 square feet to 7,5000 square feet for sewered lots.
Wayne Gray, a former state representative and Rockland resident, said decreasing minimum lot size allowances will take away from what makes Rockland an enjoyable place to live and visit.
“Most Rockland natives consider it a compliment when people come here and want to live here,” Gray said. “I don’t see how reducing the size of house lots will help the city of Rockland or its people.”
But residents who favored the changes said the new zoning will make it easier and more affordable for people to find housing in the city.
“Rockland is in danger of becoming a destination only accessible to the wealthy, to retirees and to tourists,” resident Nate Davis said. “When I see the younger people moving here, I see entrepreneurship, I see grit, I see artistry and I see ambition. I also see people struggling to find a place to live.”
The city’s comprehensive plan commission split on whether the changes reflected the goals set out for Rockland in its comprehensive plan.
Mayor Lisa Westkaemper, Councilor Vallie Geiger and Councilor Amelia Magjik voted in favor of the changes. Councilor Benjamin Dorr was not present at Monday night’s meeting.