ROCKLAND, Maine ― City councilors won’t block a downtown property owner from demolishing a part of her building and constructing a parking lot on the prominent corner site.
The city council unanimously rejected a measure Monday night that would ban commercial parking lots within the downtown and postponed any demolition moratorium aimed at stopping or stalling property owner Crystal Darling from tearing down a portion of 279 Main St., which some fear will alter the aesthetic of downtown.
Councilors ultimately decided the measures were unfair because they specifically tried to block a proposal that was in compliance with city zoning standards.
“I consider this retro-zoning,” City Councilor Louise McLellan-Ruf said. “I would prefer that a parking lot not go there but the individual who is requesting it followed every step she was supposed to follow.”
Darling submitted plans this fall to tear down a portion of the 15,000-square foot building that sits on the corner of Park and Main streets — a major intersection in Rockland’s downtown district. She told councilors last week that the building needed repairs and a parking lot with long-term leased spaces would be easier to manage.
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National retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co. constructed the building in the mid-1950s after a fire in 1952 destroyed the buildings on the block, including The Rockland Hotel, which once stood at the address.
The Sears building was the first in New England to be built using tilt-up construction, which entails lifting prefabricated concrete walls into place with cranes, according to Rockland Historical Society Curator Ann Morris. Because of this unique method of construction, Morris has included the property on a draft list of historically significant downtown buildings that she said should require extra review if ever slated for demolition.
Other buildings on this list include the Farnsworth Art Museum, the John Bird Block, the Narragansett Hotel and the Lindsey House Hotel, among others.
Darling argued that her building lacked historical significance because it was renovated in the 1990s and its modern facade looks nothing like the 1950’s-era Sears department store.
The city’s planning board is expected to rule on Darling’s proposal on Jan. 5. The city council is postponing enacting any kind of a demolition moratorium until then.
“I’m sympathetic to the intention of this [moratorium] but there’s the issue of fairness again with the Sears building,” City Councilor Nate Davis said.