ROCKLAND, Maine ― The City Council is considering a six-month moratorium on the demolition of buildings downtown to give the city’s historic preservation committee time to evaluate which structures should be preserved.
It comes as the owner of a downtown building has proposed tearing down a majority of the structure and paving the site for parking. The council previously considered a ban on commercial parking lots in the downtown area to stop the developer, but has since postponed that measure.
City councilors will meet with property owner Crystal Darling on Dec. 7 to hear why she wants to tear the building down before giving final consideration to the demolition moratorium on Dec. 14.
If passed, it would temporarily halt the demolition of Darling’s property at 279 Main St.
“This won’t prevent the buildings from ever being demolished but the Historic Preservation Commission would like certain buildings to be given the chance for someone to rehab before demolition,” Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell said.
Darling’s property sits at a major intersection in downtown Rockland and is home to Park Street Grille, among other businesses.
The 15,000-square-foot building was constructed in the 1950s. Under Darling’s proposal, the majority of the building, including the portion that houses Park Street Grille, would be torn down. In its place, a commercial parking lot would be constructed, with parking for the building’s remaining tenants and long-term leased spaces.
The portion where Frank’s Family Hair Care and Breakwater Design and Build Inc. currently operate would remain intact.
Since plans were submitted to the planning board earlier this fall, the city council has been scrambling to determine the best way to pump the brakes on the proposal.
Former City Councilor Valli Geiger proposed a stricter review process for parking lots within the downtown district, stating that surface lots don’t mesh with the long-term vision for the city.
An outright ban on stand-alone commercial lots was ultimately added to Geiger’s proposal. The council has indefinitely postponed final approval of Geiger’s proposal.
While councilors ultimately agree that a parking lot would provide few benefits to downtown, some have voiced concern over changing the rules amid an active application for demolition.
“As disgusted as I am at giving more space to vehicles, if it was my building and it was not economically viable, I would be angry if I was told I couldn’t tear it down and use it as a parking lot,” Councilor Ben Dorr said at an Oct. 14 council meeting.
There will be a public hearing on the demolition moratorium before the council considers it for final approval on Dec. 14.