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City Councilors spar over zoning change

Rockland – During a vote Sept. 9 on proposed zoning changes west of Old County Road, City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson said this change would affect her finances and personal well-being.

“We would like to not have our property rights taken from us,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson lives on West Meadow Road, which she thought was part of the proposed zone.

Mayor Will Clayton asked her if she would recuse herself from voting on the zoning.

“Absolutely not,” Dickerson said.

Clayton then asked the city attorney what the protocol was for recusing a councilor due to a conflict of interest. Attorney Kevin Beal said the rules are more for the council to convene a board of ethics to consider the transgression of a councilor. He defined a conflict of interest as a vote that is in a councilor’s direct financial interest in terms of a contract, purchase or vote on employment of the councilor or a close family member of the councilor.

The council voted 3-1 with Dickerson opposed to pass the creation of Rural Residential 2 zone covering a large, rural section of the city west of Old County Road (for map and full text of amended zone, click link below story). The zone includes most of West Meadow Road except for a few properties near Lake Ave, Thompson Meadow Road, Sherers Lane, part of Tolman Road, part of Mountain Road and the Bog Road.

Permitted uses in the zone include farm stands, bed and breakfasts, and riding stables.

Other uses including agriculture markets, campgrounds and small wind turbines to power a home or farm would require planning board approval. Agriculture markets are defined as retail sale operations selling jams, cheeses, cider, soaps, candles and other such items. Farm stands, which need no approval from the planning board are businesses where at least 85 percent of the products sold are grown by the owner of the stand on the property or in rural residential zone 2.

Drive-thrus, large wind turbines and commercial motorized sport operations such as an ATV track are prohibited uses.

Dickerson took issue with the minimum lot size defined in the new zone, which required all lots be at least two acres unless they were on the books before the zone was enacted.

She said she might want to subdivide her property in the future and this would cut in half the value of that potential subdivision property.

After Clayton asked Beal about rules of recusing a councilor, Beal researched and was informed by Code Enforcement Officer John Root that Dickerson’s property was no longer in the proposed zone. This prompted a laugh from Dickerson.

City Manager James Smith said the zone had originally included more of the Old County Road area and areas near Chickawaukie Lake and Rockport, which were taken out after Old County residents criticized the proposed zoning earlier this year.

Councilor Frank Isganitis said the council had asked the comprehensive planning commission to look into zoning for this area after a farm was proposed there back before he was on the council.

He argued zoning was needed and cited as examples the problems in Warren where the town was fighting to keep a methadone clinic from moving into the town and Searsport where a massive fuel tank was opposed by residents.

“Now is an awesome and perfect time to deal with this,” he said.

Isganitis asked Dickerson if she had data to support that this zoning would lower property values, noting he had brought books saying that smart growth improves property values.

Before Dickerson could answer, Clayton, called a five-minute recess.

After the recess, Dickerson said she thinks it is funny her property is suddenly not in this zone since it is the only farm in the area.

The council approved the zoning which goes into effect in 30 days.

Sand and salt shed on Nov. ballot

In other business, the council voted 4-0 to put a $586,000 salt and sand shed on the November ballot.

The city hopes to build a 9,100-square-foot salt and sand shed near the city transfer station off Pleasant Street. Smith said in previous comments the city loses sand and salt each year because it is stored outside and the city does not have a shed for its storage.

Waterline work going to night schedule

Smith reported to the council at the meeting that from now on, work on the waterlines that has snarled traffic on Camden Street (Route 1), will be done at night to prevent traffic problems.

Traffic was severely backed up this past week after the installation of new waterlines closed one lane of traffic on the busy street.

Work will proceed from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. and is expected to continue for up to three weeks, Smith said.

Warehouse expansion

The council went into an executive session at the end of the meeting, behind closed doors, to discuss a possible warehouse expansion and new TIF district involving city owned land.

Councilor Eric Hebert was absent from the meeting.