UPDATED: Planning Board finds art center application complete
Rockland — Members of the art and business communities continued to voice strong support for plans to move the Center for Maine Contemporary Art to Rockland during a meeting March 18 at City Hall.
About 30 people attended the meeting to review plans to build the new art center on Winter Street. Following a presentation from architect Hye-Young Chung of New York and engineer Will Gartley of Gartley & Dorsky Engineering & Surveying, Inc., the Planning Board voted unanimously to find the application for the project complete.
Despite the support, the center still faces some challenges in meeting the requirements of the city's zoning regulations, specifically the downtown zone and the Tillson Avenue Overlay Zone.
A public hearing on the project will be held Tuesday, April 1.
The nonprofit CMCA plans to move from its longtime location in the Rockport firehouse to 21 Winter St. Drawings presented show an outdoor courtyard with small trees, a glassed-in lobby facing the street and a large exhibition building with a saw-tooth roof and north-facing skylights to take advantage of natural daylight.
"CMCA's decision to move to Winter Street is both visionary and empowering," said Richard Aroneau, who owns property on Main Street. "...this investment will propel forward and accelerate our city's vision to reconnect Main Street to a thriving and lively waterfront."
"The golden triangle formed by the Farnsworth, the Strand and CMCA, and threaded with galleries, restaurants, shops and streets filled with residents and visitors from around the world, will complete the transformation of Rockland into the cultural epicenter of Maine," Aroneau added.
Café Miranda owner Kerry Altiero also spoke in support of the project at the meeting.
Planning Board members George Terrien and Kyle Swan raised questions at the meeting about the size of an art gallery wall that will be part of the center. The wall will be about 62 feet long and up to 26 feet high.
Terrien argues the wall does not meet a specific part of the zoning rules, which states: "The Planning Board shall approve an application unless the board finds…a marked absence of architectural elements characteristic of the predominant architecture of structures on Main Street, between Park and Lindsey Streets, constructed prior to 1941."
He argued that windows and doors at frequent intervals are needed to meet this standard since they are a part of the architecture seen on Main Street.
Gartley argued at a previous meeting the center meets this provision. It has windows along the wall, he noted, and there are no rules on the books stating how far off the ground those windows need to be. Representatives of CMCA have pointed out that an art gallery needs a large area of uninterrupted wall space on which to display various works.
"Many galleries existing today on Main Street must have similar need for wall space, but provide windows and doors, more or less continuously, along their frontage, enlivening the streetscape with their scale and invitation," Terrien said. "I fervently hope the applicant will reconsider and present a design that meets the ordinance."
Planning Board Chairman Erik Laustsen pointed out the same regulations state: "These design standards are intended to require the use of traditional architectural elements, but not to impose any particular architectural style or to foreclose modern design that invokes, but does not mimic, the historic downtown architecture in Rockland."
Planning Board member Peta vanVuuren asked City Attorney Kevin Beal to speak to how the different pieces fit together in terms of all of the different zoning standards being applied to the project.
Beal said he could write a legal opinion before the April 1 public hearing. He said all applicable standards are to be applied: the development standards, the Tillson Avenue Overlay Zone, and the architectural review standards.
"Are you concerned about potential inconsistency?" he asked.
"I'm trying to weigh them," vanVuuren said.
Beal said if there were an inconsistency between a general statement in the ordinance and a specific requirement, then the specific would control because it would speak to the intent by the legislative body that approved the rules.
Aroneau seemed to speak to this issue as well during the public comments. "Rockland is a living museum of 19th century domestic and commercial architecture, but its destiny is not to become embalmed as a living theme park," he said. "The future of this city lies in embracing the cultural and creative economy of the 21st century, which includes a vigorous contemporary architectural vocabulary, one that honors our heritage and is respectful of our urbanism, but that is unafraid to express the vibrancy and economic vitality of a new age."
Laustsen said the board has to go by the zoning codes, and it is not a matter of deciding based on whether the board members like CMCA or want it to come to Rockland.
"I hope people understand in the room that we are sworn by oath to uphold the standards," Terrien said. "We are not acting as a jury, or a trial by neighborhood; we are not acting as an American Idol evaluation of the proposal."
At the meeting, Chung provided samples of the corrugated gray metal siding proposed for the building.
It was noted the plan calls for hooking into a new stormwater pipe that would be added on Winter Street as part of the city's plans for improvements to the street. Gartley said that should the city not complete that project, he would have to adjust the plans to come up with another storm-water solution.
The exterior lights proposed for the building would be along the edge of the property near the sidewalk aimed upwards to give the building an aura at night. Chung said this would improve security in the area as well.
The Planning Board will continue its review of this project at the April 1 meeting, 5:15 p.m. at City Hall.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include more of the discussion at the meeting of the specific zoning rules that will be applied to this project.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122.