October 21, 2019
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Rockland grapples with how to regulate group homes in residential neighborhoods

Lauren Abbate | BDN
Lauren Abbate | BDN
A Camden woman is planning to turn a home on Talbot Avenue in Rockland into a transitional living home for recently released inmates.

City officials in Rockland are trying to figure out how to regulate group homes, which some residents feel are popping up in neighborhoods with insufficient notice and without oversight.

Earlier this summer, news that a home for recently released inmates was going to open at a house on Talbot Avenue shook neighbors, who hadn’t been approached by the woman who bought the home and was organizing the project.

But city officials are limited in how they can address neighbors’ concerns. The city’s code enforcement officer ruled that because the home would only have four occupants, it is classified as a single-family dwelling and doesn’t have to go through the planning board for approval.

“This is a really painful conversation for the neighborhood, the community and I know for myself,” City Councilor Valli Geiger said at a council meeting last month.

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This is the second group home within the past year that has opened in a Rockland neighborhood and generated concerns from neighbors. A home for disabled adults on Limerock Street angered adjacent neighbors, who have said the construction forced them to move from their home.

On Wednesday, the Rockland City Council will hold a workshop to discuss a proposed ordinance brought forth from Geiger that would attempt to regulate group homes by changing the city zoning ordinance’s definitions of “family” and “lodging, rooming or boarding house.”

After hearing concerns from residents regarding the Talbot Avenue re-entry home, Geiger said at a June 24 council meeting that she believes a loophole had been found in the city’s code to allow these types of group homes to open without having to go before the planning board.

Following the backlash from Talbot Avenue residents, longtime Code Enforcement Officer John Root resigned. But the Rockland Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday upheld Root’s decision that the re-entry house met the standard for classification as a single-family dwelling and therefore does not have to go before the planning board to be established in a residential zone.

The residents have 45 days to file an appeal of the board’s decision in court. Kristin Collins, an attorney representing a group of Talbot Avenue residents, said they will likely wait to see how the city handles the proposed ordinance before deciding whether to file an appeal.

The ordinance proposal includes changing the definition of family within residential zoning code, which currently classifies homes occupied by families related by blood or marriage, as well as four unrelated people who share a common kitchen and bathroom, as a single-family dwelling.

Under the proposed change, in order for four unrelated individuals to live in a home that would be classified as a single-family dwelling, the individuals must share “the entire house” as well as live and cook together along with sharing expenses for “food, rent, utilities or other household expenses.”

When she proposed the ordinance at the June 24 meeting, Geiger admitted that it was not perfect and was instead a “stopgap measure” to try and address concerns from Talbot Avenue residents before the re-entry house opens.

After giving the ordinance initial approval last month, city councilors agreed to slow the process and hold a workshop to further discuss the ordinance.

Some Rockland residents, however, are concerned that the ordinance proposal is too far reaching and could have unintended consequences that would make it difficult for people to find housing.

“The language proposed … as I understand, is much more far reaching [than just regulating group homes] and would result in the regulation of relationships of unrelated adults living in any home in the city,” Rockland resident Amy Files said at a July 1 council meeting. “I don’t believe this was the council’s intention … it sounds very prescriptive.”

The workshop on Wednesday will take place at 5:30 p.m. at Rockland City Hall.

 



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