Main Street in Downtown Rockland. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― Councilors are considering dropping a requirement from the city ordinance that apartments must be attached to a single-family home in an attempt to add more units to the city’s housing stock.

This isn’t the first time the city has looked at relaxing such rules. Nearly two years ago, the city faced significant backlash when it included an accessory dwelling amendment in a package of sweeping zoning changes that was later rescinded.

However, proponents of the proposal think it will be better received now as a standalone amendment to the city’s ordinance.

“In my opinion it’s a minor change. It’s something that is unlikely to hurt anybody, but it’s something that is likely to increase the housing supply in Rockland,” said City Councilor Nate Davis, who is co-sponsoring the proposal with City Councilor Ben Dorr. “I’m hoping by doing this one thing separately without bundling it into provisions … there won’t be as much procedural opposition.”

In Rockland, accessory apartments, such as ones above a garage or other small living spaces, are only allowed if they are connected to the main home on the property, even via a breezeway or deck.

But Davis said it’s a “silly” requirement for property owners. By removing the attachment requirement, proponents are hopeful more property owners can build accessory dwellings, therefore increasing the number of rental units within the city.

Rockland, like many communities on the midcoast, has struggled to remain affordable. Median home prices in Knox County are about $30,000 more than the average homebuyer can easily afford, according to MaineHousing data for 2019. In Rockland alone, 52 percent of residents can’t afford the median home price.

“We still have this very acute need for housing. I have always thought that the attachment provision is just silly. But I would like people to be able to build them and increase housing and this is one way to do it,” Davis said.

Nearly two years ago, Rockland City Council tried to address this need for more affordable housing by passing a sweeping set of zoning changes that included reducing lots sizes and square-footage requirements, among other tweaks.

However, the changes were strongly opposed by residents who feared the overhaul of city zoning would harm the fabric of existing neighborhoods. One resident went as far as to file a lawsuit against the city, claiming the council did not follow the proper procedure for making the changes.

The council ultimately repealed the zoning changes and did not take up the matter again.

Councilors will discuss and vote on the amendment at its Dec. 14 meeting. Davis said a workshop will likely be held in January ahead of a public hearing and final vote.