(Photo by Marjorie Strauss)
(Photo by Marjorie Strauss)
Rockland City Council voted on Monday to abandon a zoning amendment that became the subject of a lawsuit by one resident and a petition that was likely to place the issue before voters.

At the start of Monday’s regular council meeting, Councilor Valli Geiger put forth the motion to rescind zoning Amendment 48 in its entirety. The unexpected motion passed 5-0, with all councilors in attendance.

Prior to the vote, Geiger explained her decision to move to rescind the amendment she had voted in favor of on January 14. She noted that some amendment opponents who spoke during recent public hearings were also former city officials who were alarmed by the new zoning rules.

“I want to honor the fact that they presided over a Rockland that had reached its nadir in the late ’70s, that was truly a city in decline, and they must feel very proud of the part that they played to bring this city back from a pretty bad place,” she said.

Geiger said that another reason the city was able to “reemerge and remake itself” was an influx of young entrepreneurs, artists and others who sought affordable housing.

“I understand the reluctance to move forward. I just want to say that from my perspective, with all due respect, I believe that you are fighting the last war,” Geiger said. “We now are not the Rockland of the ’70s and ’80s. That we are, in fact, at a fork in the road.”

She said Rockland faces two potential futures: to continue as a vibrant city that embraces residents of different ages and backgrounds with varying income levels, or become “a community that is very wealthy, very insular, and very staid.”

A public hearing was not required prior to the rescind motion, according to City Clerk Stuart Sylvester, who explained that advance, public notice of the motion to rescind was not necessary either.

Sylvester said the council met with the city’s attorney last week to discuss a lawsuit filed by resident James Ebbert, which sought a repeal of the ordinance based largely on claims that the city had not properly advertised hearings before the vote to pass the amendment.

The other obstacle to the implementation of the amendment was a petition started January 28 by a group of 19 residents, including former members of the city council, seeking to put the amendment on the June 11 ballot, the next scheduled city election. The petitioners collected signatures at the transfer station and other spots around the city and reportedly had gathered the requisite 523 signatures to bring the issue to a vote.

Rockland residents also recently received mailed cards from amendment opponents with messages disparaging the measure for what were described as allowances for “tiny houses” and “infill” that would drastically reduce the city’s green space.

City Councilor Ed Glaser said on Tuesday that he made what might appear to be a “counter-intuitive” vote to rescind the amendment, since he supports its goals. He said it is likely that most residents also support the amendment’s objectives of enabling the next generation to live in the city while older citizens “age in place,” making Rockland a “walkable haven” that is also economically diverse, and improving home energy efficiency.

He also lauded the housing task force that produced the zoning ordinance, which he called a “good start” toward achieving the city’s goals.

“Maybe we on the council didn’t do a good enough job explaining what we are hoping to accomplish, or maybe the change is too sweeping, or it needs to be implemented incrementally, but it stirred up some serious citizen opposition,” Glaser said. “When that opposition includes many people that have lived in Rockland their whole lives, we have to take their criticisms seriously. I think that the damage we do to the community by pitting one side against the other is worse than the benefits that any ordinance can generate.”

He added even a great plan may not be the right one for Rockland at this time and rescinding Amendment 48 allows the city another opportunity to consider the problems.

“I may be overly optimistic, but I think if we really listen to the arguments on both sides we can craft a better ordinance,” Glaser said. “To the chagrin of some, it doesn’t mean that it is off the table, but instead that we can rework it so that it can be embraced — even if half-heartedly — by an even wider segment of Rockland.”