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January 29, 2019

Rockland's 'tiny house' amendment challenged in court

Courtesy / Wikipedia Commons
Courtesy / Wikipedia Commons
A lawsuit has been filed challenging Rockland's recent zoning amendment intended to address the need for affordable housing in existing neighborhoods, including tiny homes of up to 800 square feet.

A Rockland resident has filed a lawsuit challenging a recent zoning change that would allow houses of less than 800 square feet in five zoning districts of the city.

The lawsuit, filed by Rockland resident James Ebbert in Knox County Superior Court against Rockland City Council, could derail an amendment to the city zoning ordinance that would allow "tiny homes" to be built, as well allow expansions of existing houses to facilitate "aging at home" for Rockland residents who might prefer that option.

"This is a stunning and unpredictable zoning change," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit, which asks the court to declare the amendment null and void, was filed Monday on behalf of Ebbert by the Law Offices of Paul L. Gibbons LLC of Camden in Superior Court in Rockland.

"The proposed zoning amendment violates the comprehensive plan," Ebbert says in the appeal. "There is no definition of 'detached dwelling units' (tiny houses) required by the comprehensive plan, and the proposed ordinance does not take into consideration the preservation of the character of the neighborhood required by the comprehensive plan. The City Council failed to take the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan Commission to postpone the vote on the zoning amendment to allow time to improve the ordinance proposal."

During a discussion at the council's Jan. 7 hearing on the proposed amendment, supporters said it was aimed at tackling affordable housing issues. Others said it would detract from property values.

Marcel Valliere, a member of Rockland's planning board and the city's housing task force, disputed the characterization of the zoning change as "a tiny house amendment."

"There are provisions to allow some people, if they want to build smaller houses, the ability to do so," he said at the Jan. 7 meeting. "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 Courier Gazette reported that, in addition to the lawsuit, a group of residents launched a petition to repeal the amendment.

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