Council hears sides in fight over tables in parkPrice for tables in park may rise; family of World War I soldiers protest restaurant use
Rockland — The Rockland City Council met with two parties March 4 concerning the use of Winslow-Holbrook Memorial Park for restaurant seating.
The restaurant's owner spoke in favor of the use, and a family member related to one of the men memorialized at the park spoke out against it.
Lynn Archer, who owns The Brass Compass Cafe, has asked the city council to approve using a 12-foot-wide strip of the park at the corner of Park and Main streets for outdoor seating during the summer months. The spot has been popular with tourists and locals during nice weather for several years.
Opposed to the outdoor seating was Gaye Best, a relative of one of the veterans for whom the park is named. Best argued the council, if it is going to accept fees for the use of part of the park, should allow other interested parties to bid on the park. In the past, only Archer has had a chance to use the park this way, according to Best, who said she might personally bid on the park.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said he believes the price of the park space for tables should rise from the $1,200 charged last year for an 8-foot-wide strip to $1,500. In addition, he said he was not inclined to change the width of the space to 12 feet. He said the 8 feet approved last year seemed to work and was the one year the city did not receive complaints.
Before the meeting, city officials and Archer had expressed hope this would not be as controversial as it was last year. In spring 2012 city councilors voted the use down two times before changing their vote to allow the tables. Over the course of several city council meetings, members of the public spoke passionately on both sides of the issue and many wrote letters to the editor and made comments online.
"Hopefully, this year this won't be such a hot topic," Archer said during the public comment portion of the March 4 meeting. She described last year as a battle.
For her part, she said she was willing to work with the city in any way and felt the restaurant could coexist with other uses of the park.
Best argued the park should be available to everyone, not just customers of the restaurant. She said she was concerned the memorial to the veterans would eventually be forgotten if the park was not protected. "That story would be lost," she said.
The city has long had plans to improve the park. Last year installing new tables was discussed at the city council level, and city workers even started removing trees at the park.
City Manager James Smith told the council the improvement project might be funded as part of a Community Development Block Grant, but the design and work on the park near the ferry terminal would have to take priority. The work would have to be done in early spring by June or later in the fall, he said, to avoid disrupting Main Street during the busy summer months.
Archer said she has been hearing about plans for the park for years, but has not seen the work done. She said she would keep the park clean and would agree to remove her tables to make room for the work when the city was ready to begin the project.
Best said she was concerned the improvements would never be made while the park was being used by the restaurant.
Daniel Dunkle can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.