ROCKLAND, Maine — A zoning proposal that would allow a proposed five-story downtown hotel to create a parking lot in a residential neighborhood has attracted considerable opposition.
Residents along Pleasant Street and its side streets turned out for a Monday evening council meeting to warn about the negative impact of the commercial intrusion into a residential neighborhood. In the end, councilors agreed to pull the proposed change off the agenda and instead asked the developer to work with the city to try to find additional parking elsewhere.
“This is blatant spot zoning,” said former Mayor Tom Molloy, who lives on Pleasant Street, about the proposed zone change from residential to commercial.
“It’s too bad to impact people who are fixing up their homes by putting a parking lot in the middle of the neighborhood.”
He said it would be a mistake to change the residential zone to a commercial zone, questioning whether the hotel would even be built.
The proposed five-story hotel, which would be the tallest building in Rockland at 65 feet, is located on Main Street — about 900 feet — from where the parking lot would be located. The plan is for the hotel to offer valet parking. Lyman Morse boatbuilding had originally proposed that the five-story building would be a mixture of retail stores, offices and residential condominiums, but now is considering making it a hotel.
Residents Alexander Shaw and Amy Files, who purchased a home located two lots from the proposed parking lot, decried the proposed zone change.
Shaw pointed out that the city’s comprehensive plan specifically calls for having a buffer between the residential neighborhoods and commercial activities.
Files said that the neighborhood has been a magnet for attracting new homeowners to Rockland. She said that the neighborhood is close to commercial areas but that the buffer is important.
Pleasant Street resident Debbie Atwell said the property being eyed for the parking lot is the most valuable piece of property in Rockland.
“This is the Park Place of Rockland. Your decision will be a landmark decision for Rockland’s inheritance for the next 100 years,” she said.
Molloy, Files, Atwell and resident Gretchen Kuhn of nearby Robinson Street suggested that the hotel developer look for alternatives for its parking needs.
“It’s not Pleasant Street’s job to solve Cabot Lyman’s parking problem,” Atwell said.
Molloy suggested that land next to both the state-owned train station and the adjacent Midcoast Mental Health Center be considered to be used to help Lyman Morse, a move that would not intrude on residential properties. The train station is located one block from the proposed hotel.
City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson said that considering the zone change is putting the cart before the horse, saying that the hotel project should first go before the planning board.
Councilor Frank Isganitis, who is sponsoring the zone change, said that the hotel project would generate $35,000 to $40,000 in property taxes annually to the city. Isganitis said that Brick Street is a public street and that the lot can be gated for hotel guests’ cars driven there by hotel employees.
Drew Lyman of Lyman Morse told councilors he did look into the other parking solutions but the state and railroad company could not offer a long-term solution with their property. Lyman said he and his father, Cabot Lyman, want to develop the hotel but need to find parking first.
Councilor Eric Hebert said he was not keen on the zone change but wanted to see the hotel project come to fruition. Hebert said if the commercial zone change were approved, that the land could be used for other commercial uses other than parking.
Hebert said that the state has additional land near the train station that could be converted into parking for the train station and then it could free up other parking for the hotel.