Rockland grapples with opening up neighborhoods to ‘infill’ housing

BY Laurie Schreiber

Courtesy / Wikipedia Commons
Courtesy / Wikipedia Commons
Rockland is reviewing a zoning amendment intended to address the need for affordable housing in existing neighborhoods. But one critic voiced concerns that those changes, which would also allow for tiny homes, could "fundamentally change the city."

The Rockland City Council is considering an amendment to a zoning ordinance that would allow small accessory and detached residential units, including so-called “tiny homes” less than 400 square feet, to be built within existing neighborhoods.
The proposed amendment could allow tiny homes to be built, as well as expansions of existing homes to facilitate "aging at home" for Rockland residents who might prefer that option.
During a discussion at the council’s Jan. 7 hearing on the proposed amendment, some residents said there could be potential impacts to neighborhood character and property values.
But one proponent  said the amendment isn't intended to spur the development of tiny homes, so much as to give residents options to expand existing living quarters that would allow them to age in place.
Others weren’t so sure that’s a good idea.
“Infill housing should not be allowing every garage and shed in the city to become housing quarters,” said one resident. “This is not infill housing, it’s shanty town houses.”
The proposal would “fundamentally change the city,” he said.
“No one can dispute the importance of making affordable housing available to all income levels,” said another resident. “There’s a way to do it and there’s a way not to do it. Destroying value in in all neighborhoods across the city is not the way to do it.”
Estimating the cost of a tiny house at $25,000, he predicted them “popping up.”
“We’ll have developers come in and setting up little villages” he continued. “Ask a real estate appraiser, a real estate agent, a mortgage banker. When you mix $25,000 homes in a neighborhood with $250,000 homes, there’s only one way for valuations to go. They go down.”
Responded Marcel Valliere, a member of Rockland’s planning board and the city’s housing task force, “The idea that this is a tiny house amendment is certainly not the intent. There are provisions to allow some people, if they want to build smaller houses, the ability to do so. But there’s no recommendation laid out strictly for tiny houses. These are changes that will allow people to make modifications of their homes and to allow for family members to live in their house, or to put a first-floor bedroom on where they might not have been able to before, so they can age in place. There are a lot of elements in this complex amendment that are designed to keep Rockland residents able to stay here.”
The Bangor Daily News reported the zoning changes were recommended by the city’s housing task force, formed last year to look at ways Rockland could increase its housing stock. City councilors approved the zoning amendments after the hearing.