Downtown art center sparks debate on Rockland design law

Posted Feb. 11, 2014, at 7:20 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The proposed Center for Maine Contemporary Art complex in the city’s downtown received considerable support from the public at a planning board meeting Tuesday night.

The project on Winter Street was stalled by the board’s concerns that the project has not met design standards in city ordinances. The board held a second pre-application meeting Tuesday.

Engineer William Gartley, who has been working with Center for Maine Contemporary Art, maintained he feels strongly that the project meets design standards the City Council approved a few years ago.

Former Mayor Brian Harden said the design standards should have provided more flexibility for designs of exceptional merit. He also said the importance of this project to Rockland’s economic future should have attracted all five councilors to the meeting and the council should add more flexibility to the designs.

“If we don’t make it possible for them to locate here, we would have looked a gift horse in the mouth in the worst possible way,” Harden said.

Fire Chief Charles Jordan Jr., who said he was speaking for himself, also voiced support for the arts center.

“This will be a fantastic magnet for the city. This will contribute greatly to the city for the next 50 to 100 years. I don’t see anything wrong with the design,” Jordan said.

Pleasant Street resident Amy Files said she was excited about the arts center.

Resident Nathan Davis said the project would generate energy and vibrancy downtown.

Planning board member George Terrien questioned whether the design for a 62-foot wall with no windows or doors conforms to the predominant architecture of buildings on Main Street from Park to Lindsey Street. He compared the wall to a large billboard.

Board member Abbie Knickelbein said she does not consider the design as out of character with a street that has warehouses.

Gartley said he was amazed the wall has become such a big issue. He said the 62-foot-long wall would not stop pedestrians from continuing down the street but would instead attract people to the street.

Suzette McAvoy, arts center director, said the long wall was needed for interior exhibit space. She said it would be a catalyst for downtown development and warned members not to risk losing the project over the long wall, which the center considers important.

Board member Warren Bodine said he firmly believes that Center for Maine Contemporary Art met the spirit and wording of the code. He also said the design standards were overly restrictive.

Gartley said after the meeting that he expects to formally present the plan for review at the board’s March meeting. The center wants the new complex open by spring 2015.

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