Center for Maine Contemporary Art faces zoning hurdlesPlanning Board raises questions about look of proposed building
Rockland — An award-winning New York City architect presenting plans for the proposed Center for Maine Contemporary Art on Winter Street met with resistance from members of the Rockland Planning Board Dec. 17.
Architect Toshiko Mori presented drawings and a model of the proposed contemporary arts center, along with engineer William Gartley.
The nonprofit CMCA plans to move from its longtime location in the Rockport firehouse to 21 Winter St. in Rockland to increase access and space. The plans call for replacing the existing building, the one-time Fireproof Garage Co., with a new city landmark.
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.
The center would have 5,000 square feet of exhibition space, a gift shop, ArtLab (for art education) and a lecture hall.
Mori said the courtyard would help contain crowds of people standing in line for tickets, so they were not spilling out onto the street. She also saw it as a place that would be opened to the general public to use in daylight hours.
She said the building has an industrial look in keeping with Rockland's working waterfront and will serve as a natural transition from the art galleries of Rockland's Main Street to the waterfront further down Winter Street.
While Planning Board Chairman Erik Laustsen and member Kyle Swan said they liked the design, George Terrien argued there were "real, substantial issues to address."
Terrien said the project, as presented does not adhere to the Tillson Avenue Overlay Zone requirements.
"I strongly believe in the guidelines creating a pedestrian vitality of the downtown, and I will argue that all the way through," he said.
His greatest concern was with a length of blank wall fronting the street. The zoning rules are in place to maintain the interest of pedestrians walking down the street by presenting doors and windows and other items of interest. Without that, the area is not vital, he argued. He compared the wall to that of a garage or warehouse.
The architect and CMCA Director Suzette McAvoy explained that an art gallery needs to have large amounts of wall space uninterrupted by windows and doors for the presentation of artwork.
Mori also argued the zoning regulations were designed around retail storefront uses, but this was not a store. The form and look of the building should match its function, she argued.
"This may not look exactly like Main Street, but the spirit is reflected in the design," she said.
Terrien said this design looked to Rockland's industrial past, and he was looking to its future.
Board member Peta vanVuuren said the materials used in the building were also guided by the zoning regulations. The regulations require brick, stone, wooden clapboard or materials similar in appearance. It was also noted at the meeting that buildings in this zone were to be in keeping with those built before 1941.
McAvoy argued the CMCA is looking to the future. She noted that the city of Rockland has given her organization a letter of support for the project.
"This building and Toshiko's name attached to it will be a landmark," McAvoy said.
Mori questioned whether an art center was a function that fit into this zoning ordinance. She said she did not want to do a fake storefront for this building.
"We have to use contemporary art language," she said.
Another issue with the ordinance will be that the courtyard does not meet setback requirements.
Lausten said that while the planning board members may like the design or not, their job was only to enforce the ordinance and they do not have the latitude to ignore parts of the ordinance even if the overall project meets the "spirit" of the regulations.
A number of representatives from CMCA attended the event, as did City Councilor Frank Isganitis.
Mori is the Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture at Harvard University‘s Graduate School of Design, according to previously published reports. Her firm has worked on a broad range of programs including urban, civic, institutional, cultural, residential, museum and exhibition design. Toshiko Mori was named to the 2014 AD Top 100 List in Architecture and Interior Design. Another of the firm's awards is the 2013 AIA New York Chapter Interior Honors Award for the Sean Kelly Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in New York City.
In Maine, where she and her husband, artist James Carpenter, have long maintained a home in the Midcoast area, Mori has designed a number of private residences and supervised the redesign of the interior spaces of the Farnsworth Art Museum.
The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (originally called Maine Coast Artists), was founded in 1952 by a small group of artists and has occupied its current location in the old Rockport firehouse since 1967.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at email@example.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.
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