A car drives down Main Street in downtown Rockland on Tuesday Sept. 7, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Rockland will not move forward with a proposal from the Maine Department of Transportation to turn the site of a former junkyard into a parking lot.

During a virtual workshop on Monday, city councilors decided to pass on a grant opportunity for the transformation, instructing staff to let the DOT know.

The city has owned the Rockland Street site since it was foreclosed on for unpaid property taxes in 2016. The site, which was a junkyard for decades, has since been cleared. City councilors and Rockland Street neighbors expressed interest in pursuing an environmental clean-up of the property, rather than paving the area for a parking lot.

“There are concerns about whether or not [the parking lot proposal] is just the fastest way of not dealing with the contamination issues, we don’t want the problem just kind of swept under a coating of asphalt,” Dan Dalrymple, who owns two neighboring lots on Rockland Street said. “It seems like there are a lot more creative uses that this property could be put to.”

City officials and the transportation department have talked about the prospect of turning the site into a park and ride lot for years, according to Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell. The department recently asked Rockland to sign off on a grant that would cover the bulk of the estimated $300,000 design and construction work.

However, Luttrell will be informing the department that it should allocate those funds elsewhere after city councilors agreed that the residential Rockland Street would not be an appropriate location for a parking lot.

A number of Rockland residents turned out to the virtual city council meeting Monday night to express their concerns regarding the parking lot proposal. Neighbors worried a parking lot would create noise and traffic problems on the short, residential street.

“It makes perfect sense not to put an asphalt parking lot in the middle of a neighborhood,” Rockland City Councilor Lousie MacLellan-Ruf said. “I think if we can clean her up, I think that’s the best option.”

In order to pursue any other uses for the property, an environmental clean-up would be needed to rid the site of contaminants. Luttrell said a full remediation of the site could cost about $500,000. However, Luttrell said the site would be a good candidate for grant opportunities from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Councilors agreed that the city should pursue both state and federal grants to get the site cleaned up.

“If we have the chance to do the remediation while there is nothing on that lot and then put it back into service as something better, let’s please let’s try to make that happen,”  City Councilor Sarah Austin said. “It’s an important, close [to downtown] neighborhood, it would be great to see houses there.”

For nearly 100 years, a commercial junkyard owned by the Shafter family operated on the Rockland Street site. In the 1990s, following a fire, city officials urged the owners to bring the junkyard into compliance with local ordinances and safety requirements. The Shafters indicated they were trying to do so, according to Bangor Daily News archives. 

Ultimately the business ceased operations in the early 2010s and was foreclosed on by the city in 2016. Since then a house on the property has been torn down and an empty lot is all that remains. 

“The street is kind of on the rise after a long time of domination by the former Shafter junkyard,” Dalrymple said.

Neighbors of the property expressed interest in the possibility of the site being used for housing or public greenspace in the future. 

“Given the location and the prime space here I think it’s a complete missed opportunity to cap it with a parking lot since that’s the easiest option,” Rockland Street resident Katrina Saucier said.

Correction: a previous version of this story misspelled Dan Dalrymple’s name.