Brass Compass fight returns to city council chambers
Editorial — It seems the movie theater is not the only place to see a sequel this year.
"Hopefully, this year this won't be such a hot topic," Lynn Archer told the Rockland City Council Monday night.
Once again the Brass Compass Cafe owner is asking the city to let her use a part of the Winslow-Holbrook Memorial Park at the corner of Park and Main streets for outdoor seating. Once again, Gaye Best, a family member of one of the soldiers the park honors, was at the council meeting trying to stop her.
The arguments at the city council meeting this week sounded identical to the fight waged last year in those same chambers. Familiar, too, is the public outcry, based on a number of online comments from readers. Most seem to support Archer and her business.
In fact, Archer has had to come back to the council time and again to ask permission to use the park since she started offering outdoor seating in 2005. On sunny summer days, tourists and a number of locals enjoy sitting outside in the park, eating and watching the people walk past on their way down Main Street. It is good for business at the cafe. Some would argue it is good for the city as well.
Last year, for some reason, tensions boiled over when Archer returned to the council to ask for use of the city-owned park. A large number of arguments and counter arguments cropped up. Best and some American Legion members were concerned use of the property was disrespectful to the memories of those memorialized in the park.
However, many in the community remained unconvinced that people enjoying a sunny day with a little food was disrespectful. Who is to say the fallen heroes wouldn't be pleased to see this?
There was some discussion from then-Mayor Brian Harden about complaints from other businesses in Rockland, the owners of which felt it was unfair to allow Archer the use of the park without putting it out to bid. Best reiterated this complaint March 4. Best also wanted to know if she and her family could bid on use of the park.
Why single out Winslow-Holbrook Memorial Park? As far as we know, other memorial parks are not put out to bid or subjected to fees. Archer has pointed out that other memorial parks are used by businesses, most notably the one next to Dunkin' Donuts.
In addition, the city has been talking about plans to improve Winslow-Holbrook Memorial Park and put in public tables for the use of everyone, not just restaurant customers. However, beyond cutting down a tree in the park last year, the city has made little progress on these plans and Archer has said she is willing to remove the tables the minute the project is ready to start.
Last year, the council argued about this during several meetings. By the time it was over Harden was throwing his hat at councilor Lizzie Dickerson across the council table, and members of the public were calling for an end to "food fight" politics.
The question is, will this get out of hand again this year? Well, sequels are never as good as the original.
Our educated guess is the Brass Compass will have an easier time of it this year. For one, the council has likely lost the stomach for the protracted battle necessary to stand in this restaurant's way. Archer has a lot of support in the community.
So far in the discussions, several have pointed out Rockland has a new council. What that really means is that Frank Isganitis has joined the council, beating Harden in the November election.
Isganitis said this week he believes a resolution can be found that will work for everyone — "As in the past, I am supportive of Lynn's use of a portion of the park."
Will Clayton, the new mayor, has favored the Compass in the past, citing it as the business-friendly move.
Councilor Dickerson plans to support Archer, but she also said she supports Gay and Roberta Best in their community services as well and believes that both uses can exist side by side, thereby honoring our veterans and providing jobs and a pleasant dining experience for our visitors.
Councilor Larry Pritchett and Eric Hebert stuck with Harden in voting the measure down two times last year before the council unanimously voted to allow some tables in the park. This year, even if they stick with that pattern, they are likely outnumbered on the council.
While a great number of issues have been thrown against the wall to see what sticks in this battle, it seems to us to make sense to let Archer use the park space for tables. In this economy, it is nice to see a business thriving, and Brass Compass has been good for Rockland. Archer was recently seen cooking on the TV show "207" and she had done a lot to promote this Midcoast city to tourists.
While other businesses or Best could potentially outbid Archer for the use of the park if the council offered it up to the highest bidder, it makes sense to work with Archer since her eatery is right next to the park.
Either way, the council should make a firm decision of what it thinks is best for the whole community and stick with it rather than dragging this out into another three-month fight.
As much as we enjoyed the show last year, we would just as soon skip the sequel.