Rockland councilors wrestle with downtown design rules

Posted June 03, 2014, at 10:38 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors debated for 90 minutes Monday night on whether Rockland needs to tighten or relax the local law that regulates the design of new downtown construction projects.

In the end, councilors decided to meet during the summer with the city’s planning board, comprehensive planning committee and economic development advisory committee to review the proposed changes.

The revised proposal comes on the heels of a debate that ensued earlier this year when the Maine Center for Contemporary Art received approval for a new center on Tillson Avenue in the city’s downtown.

Opponents argued that a 62-foot long wall facing Tillson Avenue with windows lining the top did not meet the city’s design standards. Then George Terrien, a planning board member, pointed out 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.

City councilor Frank Isganitis said Monday night that his proposed changes to the design standards would make the regulations clearer. The City Council adopted the original design standards in 2009.

Mayor Larry Pritchett said he understood the reasoning for design standards for new construction in the downtown section of Main Street but was less in agreement for the need on Tillson Avenue, which leads from Main Street to the harbor.

Isganitis said the No. 1 thing he hears when a new project comes forward is about how it looks. He said clearer design standards would address those concerns.

The standards are not intrusive but create an expectation of what the community wants in new construction, he said.

Other councilors questioned the need for more regulations. Councilor Eric Hebert said that the historic Strand Theater could not be built today under the existing city design standards because it would require a window on all exterior walls that can be seen from Main Street.

“If you have a window, you couldn’t show movies,” Hebert said. “I think they go a little too far.”

Hebert voiced concern that a perfectly good project might not come to fruition with such design regulations.

Isganitis said he fears municipalities will be unable to stop an ill-designed development without standards.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson proposed an ordinance change that would lower the maximum allowable height for new buildings in one section of the downtown. This comes in reaction to the proposed five-story hotel at the intersection of Main and Pleasant streets that has generated considerable opposition from residents in the neighborhood.

Dickerson’s proposal, which will face an initial vote Monday, June 9, would limit new buildings to 50 feet or four stories between Park and Pleasant streets in the downtown section. The current law is 65 feet or five stories.

The proposed hotel is 57 feet to the roof, although the elevator shaft and a deck extend to 72 feet.

The hotel project is up for a final vote Tuesday, June 10, before the planning board.

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