May 31, 2020
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Rockland councilors rescind controversial zoning again in hopes of warding off lawsuit

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
Rockland City Hall

City officials in Rockland are hopeful that a second vote to rescind a controversial zoning ordinance will put an end to a lawsuit that alleges the City Council did not follow proper procedures when it passed and then abruptly rescinded the ordinance a month later.

City councilors voted unanimously Monday night to rescind an ordinance originally passed in January that overhauled the city’s residential zoning code in an attempt to create more affordable housing opportunities.

Shortly after passage of the ordinance, a resident filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging the council did not properly advertise the meeting at which the ordinance passed. A citizen’s petition to repeal the ordinance by citywide referendum also circulated.

In response to the lawsuit and the petition, at their Feb. 11 meeting, city councilors unexpectedly voted to rescind the ordinance before it was slated to take effect Feb. 13.

“They saw the lawsuit and the petition and it made them think again,” Rockland city attorney Mary Costigan said. “They have the full right to rescind.”

After the City Council voted to rescind the ordinance the first time, Rockland resident James Ebbert amended his lawsuit, arguing the vote was not done legally because residents were not given proper notice.

Costigan said because the vote was a reconsideration rather than a repeal, public notice did not need to be given under the city’s administrative code.

In a March 18 motion filed in response to Ebbert’s lawsuit, Costigan asked the court to reject Ebbert’s motion to amend the lawsuit and dismiss the lawsuit as a whole.

In response to the concerns Ebbert raised about public notice, the council voted to rescind the ordinance at Monday night’s meeting. Notice of the vote was included on the agenda for the meeting and advertised twice in a local newspaper.

Costigan said the second vote was not required but was done to “hopefully put an end to the lawsuit.”

“The council is trying to move forward,” she said.

The ordinance at the center of the controversy reduced minimum lot sizes, frontage and setback requirements, as well as square footage requirements for properties in all three of the city’s residential zones. The changes also allowed for detached accessory apartments as a conditional use in each of the zones and opened the door to allowing tiny houses in the city.

Opponents of the ordinance argued that the changes would create infill that would throw off the balance of the city’s existing neighborhoods. A number of residents also expressed strong opposition to tiny houses popping up around the city.

Even though the ordinance never went into effect, a number of residents turned out to Monday night’s City Council meeting to express concerns about the ordinance and the process in which it was enacted and rescinded.

“Will the city only follow the law when sued by a constituent,” Barry Faber asked the City Council. “I hope you give this ordinance a rest.”


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