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  • Bangor Daily News

    Rockland eliminates per-unit minimum lot sizes in bid for more housing

    By Jules Walkup,

    The Rockland City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to eliminate the minimum lot sizes per living unit in some residential neighborhoods, as part of an effort to encourage more housing development. But many opponents spoke out against the decision, some claiming it would disrupt the “small town” feeling of the city. Some of them also argued that the change wouldn’t necessarily help develop more affordable housing because it would disqualify projects from the benefits of a state law meant to encourage affordability.
    The change will eliminate the requirement that lots have a minimum size of 5,000 and 2,000 square feet per dwelling unit if they’re sewered properties in residential zones A and B — urban areas right outside downtown. Though developers still have to adhere to other requirements, including setback and height restrictions, officials hope the change allows more dense development in the city, which ultimately could help to bring down the rising price of housing. “What we’re trying to do here with [the ordinance amendment] is really about making change that doesn’t touch the physical limits of the built environment, but the number of people who can live on a lot or the number of units on that lot,” Councilor Penelope York said.
    But three city committees, including the planning board, Comprehensive Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission all previously voted against the measure . Comprehensive Planning Commission Chair Amy Files said at the Monday night meeting that the change won’t guarantee affordable housing in Rockland because it exempts development in these areas from benefits guaranteed by 2022 state housing law L.D. 2003 .
    The housing law provides a benefit to developers that designate at least part of their new development as affordable. But, these developers must follow minimum lot size per dwelling unit laws. Without these requirements, anyone who wants to develop in residential zones A and B in Rockland cannot take advantage of the bonus, and therefore aren’t incentivized to designate some of their developments as affordable housing. “This ordinance would eliminate this tool, eliminating the only existing affordability incentive tool we currently have, and further tip the balance toward the profit market housing that is no longer affordable to the people who live here,” Files said.
    But councilors Adam Lachman and Nate Davis said the council could workshop and create its own affordable housing incentives. “Not all density bonuses are created equal,” Lachman said. Several people spoke at the meeting, with eight in favor of eliminating the requirements and eight opposed. A few speakers asked that the council table the ordinance amendment and discuss it with the public more. One speaker, Zander Shaw, said that eliminating the minimum lot size per dwelling unit would simply encourage more development at market price.
    A few other speakers, including Jim Kalloch, complained that increasing density would decrease existing property values and disrupt neighborhoods. But several Rockland residents welcomed the increased density, claiming the area isn’t growing and needs more affordable housing as rent and housing prices skyrocket. “The character of a city is not its houses, it is its people,” said Rockland resident Nicholas Keeney. “If that means higher taxes and being surrounded by multiplexes, so mote it be. I hope when we are gone, someone tears down our house and builds a modern, multi-family monstrosity in its place. May God reward their industry.”
    Davis said the ordinance amendment is a form of economic justice, bringing in more affordable housing to a city that desperately needs it. “The history of this type of regulation is unambiguously, unambiguously racist and discriminatory,” Davis said. “Depending on your lot in the city, you can build a 3,000 square-foot mansion, but you can’t build, in the same structure, five 600 square-foot apartments. That offends my basic sense of fairness.”
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