ROCKLAND, Maine — A divided Rockland Planning Board gave approval Tuesday night to a downtown arts complex that supporters say will be a boon for the community.
The vote came despite continued debate on whether a 62-foot wall with windows lining the top meets the city’s design standards.
The board voted to approve the Center for Maine Contemporary Art proposal to build an 8,600-square-foot arts center on Winter Street that includes a 2,200-square-foot glass-enclosed courtyard. The $2.5 million project is expected to be completed within 12 months. Ground could be broken in midsummer.
The board was divided 3-2 on the issue of whether the arts center met the downtown design standards. Board members Kyle Swan and George Terrien voted that the project did not meet the design standards.
The board took its action following overwhelming support from the public during the public hearing portion of the meeting, as speaker after speaker said the project met the city’s design standards and would be a boon for the community. Nearly 100 people turned out for the meeting and applauded as nearly a dozen speakers gave their backing for the arts center.
Jim Kinnealey, who founded Caldbeck Gallery downtown 32 years ago, said the proposed arts center was an exciting addition to the community.
Dan Bookham of Rockland pointed out that the planning board appeared to be split about the design standards ordinance similar to the U.S. Supreme Court on issues related to the Constitution — between those who take a strict interpretation and others who believe the ordinance is a living document.
“Rockland is special for its unique architecture and variety of businesses. For Rockland to move forward it needs to embrace its future,” Bookham said.
Former Mayor Brian Harden, who was on the council when the design standards were approved in 2009, said that CMCA has met the standards with its proposal. He said the project is a balance between historic and modern architecture.
The planning board has been reviewing the project for more than three months.
Planning board member Swan said he does not feel the front facade met the design standards since the windows are not at ground level and that the ordinance refers to ground-level design. He said CMCA has not made any significant change in that facade since the concerns were first raised.
Planning board member Terrien again argued that the city’s design law requires new buildings to have elements characteristic of the predominant architecture of structures on Main Street between Park and Lindsey streets constructed prior to 1941. Therrien said the 62-foot wall does not meet that requirement, since there is no other similar architecture on Main Street.
Board Chairman Erik Laustsen said nowhere in the ordinance does it say the windows have to be located at street level.
The 62-year-old nonprofit arts center has been located in Rockport for decades, but announced in May 2013 it wanted to join the thriving art scene in downtown Rockland. The center will be located near the Farnsworth Art Museum, Strand Theatre and numerous private galleries.
The board also discussed at length landscaping, sidewalk and drainage. The city is considering building an 8-foot-wide sidewalk along Winter Street and parking may be prohibited along that stretch.