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ROCKLAND, Maine ― City officials in Rockland have shot down an ordinance change that would redefine what a single-family home means under the city zoning code in an attempt to regulate group homes.
The proposed ordinance amendment came out of a discussion earlier this summer surrounding what the city could do to try to regulate a recovery and inmate reentry residence that is slated to open on Talbot Avenue in a residential neighborhood.
But the ordinance amendment was unanimously defeated at Monday night’s City Council meeting, after councilors ― including Valli Geiger, the councilor who proposed the amendment ― said more work needed to be done on the issue.
Under the city’s current residential zoning code, as long as a home has no more than four unrelated individuals, it can be considered a single-family home and therefore would not need a conditional use permit from the city’s planning board.
The proposed residence on Talbot Avenue will house three residents and a house manager. Rockland Code Enforcement Officer John Root determined that with only four unrelated residents, the residence fell under the definition of a single-family home. After backlash from Talbot Avenue residents who felt Root erred in his determination, Root told city management that he would be resigning from his post.
However, the Rockland Zoning Board of Appeals upheld Root’s determination that the Talbot Avenue residence met the standard for a single-family home under the city’s current residential zoning ordinances.
In response to what she has described as a “loophole” in the city’s zoning ordinances, Geiger proposed the ordinance amendment, which would further clarify what a single-family home meant.
The reentry and recovery residence 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.
Under the amendment proposed by Geiger, 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.”
However, some Rockland residents were concerned that the amendment as written would have unintended consequences, including making housing harder to find, since having multiple unrelated roommates often makes living in Rockland affordable.
Geiger admitted that the amendment she proposed was far from perfect, but was intended to get the conversation started.
“We don’t want to shut down recovery houses, but this is a new type of housing use we have not seen before,” Geiger told the Bangor Daily News last month. “I think it should require a permit that is reviewed annually with required neighborhood engagement, but that needs to be discussed, and other councilors may not see the need.”
Monday’s vote was not the end of the discussion surrounding group homes in the city. Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell said that the council “will begin working on a totally new definition over the next month.”