Rockport considers zoning amendments to accommodate tiny havens of hope penbay pilot

ROCKPORT — They are to be called Tiny Havens of Hope, and the Hospitality House is teaming up with Midcoast Habitat for Humanity to build 11 of them on the nonprofit’s 5.6 acres on Old County Road in Rockport. The havens are akin to cabins, but while they have a bedroom and bathroom, they have no kitchen. And their purpose is provide additional transitional space at the Hospitality House, which is the Knox County Homeless Coalition’s family shelter.

This week, the Rockport select and planning boards are voting whether to place ordinance amendments before voters at June Town Meeting that would allow the nonprofits to proceed with applying for permits to build tiny havens in the town’s 904 Residential zone.

Articles 6 and 7 (see sidebar) are the result of discussions held this past winter among members of Midcoast Habitat for Humanity and the Knox County Homeless Coalition with the Rockport Ordinance Review Committee to explore how the Hospitality House could expand its facility while fulfilling its mission of ending homelessness.

The discussions broadened, as former planner Jamie Francomano said, to include a town wide assessment of housing density, where duplexes were encouraged but multi-families were discouraged, all with an eye toward “diversity of housing variety.”

The Homeless Coalition and Habitat for Humanity are collaborating on the idea of building the tiny havens, approximately 190 square feet in size, to add capacity to the Hospitality House campus, which now provides a home for 23 residents. To go further, however, they want to expand more on the responsibilities and duties that come with home renting and ownership.

“‘Transitional learning and living’ is how we would articulate the intention for the tiny shelter structures,” said Homeless Coalition Executive Director Stephanie Primm. “These do not in any way represent permanent housing. They are additional shelter capacity and provide transitional supportive space for our families who will eventually graduate to permanent housing of their own.”

Article 8 – Section 919 Conditional Uses. This proposed amendment to the LUO includes: the deletion and replacement of Section 703.3 “Special Exceptions,” with a new Section 919 “Conditional Uses;” the removal of jurisdiction from the Zoning Board of Appeals to the Planning Board; simplified criteria for approval; and revising “SE” to read “CU” everywhere it appears on the Section 917 Table of Permitted Uses.

This one is a structural change in land use ordinance. It is proposed that special exceptions be renamed conditional uses and that jurisdiction for a decision on the conditional use be moved from Zoning Board of Appeals to the planning board and the criteria for granting conditional use cut half from 10 paragraphs to 5 paragraphs because the current criteroera are highly redundant with site plan review, according to Francomano.

A lot of planners have been discussing it since Bryant vs. Tonw of Camden, whereby a problem arose from the circuitous need a special exception from Zoning Board and site plan from Planning Board, said Francomano. “The moving back and forth from two volunteer groups is inefficient and forces the zoning board to render a decision on something that wasn’t an appeal at all.”

Article 10 – Harbor Ordinance. This proposed amendment to the Town of Rockport Coastal Waters and Harbor Ordinance includes: a change to allow “Special Exceptions” from certain requirements upon a recommendation from the Harbor Committee and approval by the Select Board; and minor revisions throughout.

The proposed Article 6 amendment to the land use ordinance would revised the definition of Congregrate Housing, striking the word “elderly,” so that all such housing is treated equally, decrease the minimum lot area required per bedroom, and increase maximum density for congregate housing in other districts as well as the 904. (See attached zoning map of Rockport referencing the different districts in town.)

Currently, the language reads that congregate housing is, “A type of multi-family dwelling, including multiple individual rooms or dwelling unites to be occupied by elderly persons as a residential shared living environment. Such construction will normally include small individual apartments, combined with shared community space, shared dining facilities, housekeeping services, personal care and assistance, transportation assistance aand specialized shared services such as medical support services and physical therapy.”

The homeless in the Midcoast include, said the Coalition, “the visible — a person living outside in a makeshift shelter or a mother and child sleeping in a car at night, and the invisible —a teen couch-surfing at a friend’s house or a mother and child staying in a safe house.”

She and Midcoast Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Tia Anderson sat before a large glass window in the rd barn next to the Hospitality House, on Old County Road. The barn, now housing offices, had been recently acquired by the Homeless Coalition, and the campus has grown to 5.6 acres. In the distance rises Dodge Mountain, and below lies Chickawaukie Lake. Behind the property, with its scrubby grass, sumac and granite ledges, is the extensive Bay Ridge subdivision that climbsup the side of Bear Mountain.

That includes life skills learning, mental and physical health improvement, and learning for greater earning potential. Classes and guidance are provided in a structured environment, focusing on budgeting, cooking, hygiene, parenting, gardening and the arts.

“The name of our proposed additional shelter capacity — ‘havens of hope’ — captures the essence of the Habitat for Humanity and Homeless Coalition purpose,” said Primm. “Both organizations restore hope for homeless or low-income families. The Coalition does so by wrapping people in caring and respectful supportive programming. We provide a strict, supportive framework within which people have a chance to remove the barriers to getting back to productive, independent lives. Our shelter policy includes strict rules, goals and objectives, homework and lots of love and support.”

At the Hospitality House, the idea of building the Tiny Havens grew from prototype to plan last year, as the nonprofit collaborated with Habitat for Humanity built its first $15,000 shelter, complete with front porch and rocking chair. ( Click here to see photos of the prototype tiny house under construction in Spring 2017)

Architects and landscape engineers have created a site plan that clusters the 11 havens on one side of the barn with a 1,500 square-foot community building, which will house the common kitchen. The havens are to be served by an expanded private sewer system. Public sewer does not run along Old County Road.

“The numbers punctuate why additional shelter capacity is so critical to our program, and our capacity to bring people back to productive, independent lives,” said Primm. “It is very difficult if not impossible for a human being who is homeless to focus on any learning or self-improvement activity until they are in stable housing or at the very least, sheltered, warm and safe.”