Hotel developer Lyman weathers storm of criticism before planning board
Rockland — Developer Cabot Lyman and his company, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding, faced a gantlet of public comment criticism during the May 20 Planning Board meeting at Rockland City Hall.
With the forthcoming approval of Lyman's five-story, $2.9 million hotel for 250 Main St. at stake, board Chairman Erik Laustsen opened the meeting by noting that the audience was “standing room only.” The proposed 26-room hotel is located at the corner of Pleasant and Main streets and filed under the name ADZ Properties.
When the meeting concluded shortly after 9 p.m., the Planning Board took no action regarding the hotel site plan. Instead, they will reconvene June 10 after members requested that Lyman and his architects develop a traffic study that addresses overall concerns including the proposed valet drop off/pick up area along Main Street. Lyman was also asked to adjust the design of the hotel's north-facing wall, which is gray and some referred to as being drab.
A total of 24 people spoke during the public hearing, most in opposition to the 16,800 square-foot hotel project.
Before the public hearing, Lyman spoke briefly before turning the hotel presentation over to his architects from Scattergood Design, T. Scott Teas and Pamela Hawkes. Noting that his plans for a similar but smaller project fell through in 2010, he said that was due to a project that was “not economically viable for the times.”
“We really want to be part of the reinvention of Rockland,” Lyman said, adding that it's “really amazing what has happened here with the restaurants and the harbor.” With more than 100,000 people attending the city's main festivals, “Rockland can use some extra beds” from a hotel that is “environmentally friendly,” Lyman offered.
When the public hearing finally started at 6:48 p.m., Laustsen asked speakers to direct comments to him. The first public speaker, City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson, said an ordinance amendment never voted on in 2010 would have limited Lyman's project to 50 feet. It should be considered now, she added, receiving a round of applause.
The hotel as proposed is 57 feet high in its tallest occupied portion, and just over 72 feet high at its tallest point for the elevator override and solar panels.
“It's just too high,” said the evening's second speaker, Joan Wright. Reading a letter from fellow resident Amy Files, Wright said, “This project is unprecedented in its size and construction.”
Criticism from vocal residents from the south side impacted by the hotel also focused on traffic flow and parking concerns.
The Planning Board is yet to take up approval of a 30-space, off-site parking lot between Park and Pleasant streets, through a lease with the Maine Department of Transportation. It is proposed that entry to the parking lot will come from Union Street through the Midcoast Health Center, with a second access route provided through 70 Park St. near Eastern Tire.
Proposed valet parking will need the city to approve a 9-by-20-foot long drop-off area along the edge of Main Street so that valets can take hotel guests' cars to the parking lot. City Attorney Kevin Beal said the drop-off area will require changing its use to short-term parking. There are currently public parking spaces in the immediate area along Main Street next to Rock City Coffee Roasters.
Continuing to read from Files' letter, Wright said the proposed hotel at Main and Pleasant streets is in a busy intersection with two crosswalks nearby. “Please take one minute to imagine what would happen” if 10 cars pulled into the valet parking area at the same time, Wright said.
Teas, addressing valet parking build-up concerns expressed by Laustsen, said the two to three vehicles arriving at the same time is likely. But he added that eight to 10 cars at the same time is not. The project needs at least two restricted parking spaces, he said.
Before the hearing, Jesse Henry of Rockland, representing the Migis Hotel Group, said that a well-trained valet staff “that can react” should be able to handle hotel arrivals. “I don't think it's a huge issue,” he said. Planning Board member William Bodine said his general belief has always been that having valet parking means “you can pull off the main thoroughfare.”
Planning Board member Kyle Swan expressed concern that the hotel may take parking space from Rock City Coffee Roasters at 252 Main St.
Susanne Ward, owner of Rock City Coffee Roasters, said during the hearing, “I certainly think that (the hotel project) overwhelms my building, which is very sad.”
Ward also said that in the past, the city almost shut her down due to complaints about coffee roasting odors. She adjusted her roastings stack accordingly. She believes that her stack will be comparable to about the fourth floor of the proposed hotel and does not want the city to try and shut her down again due to hotel complaints. Ward employs 25 workers.
Resident Debby Atwell said she was presenting the Planning Board with 35 signed petitions. Leaving a large hole of an abandoned project for four years as Lyman did, and then proposing a bloated project, does not send the right message, she said.
“That corner (Pleasant and Main) is the gateway to the south end,” said Orange Street resident Ben Levine. “It's not an urban area” but a residential one, he added.
The newest site plan from Scattergood Architects shows that terra cotta rainscreen is now "the dominant feature of the 250 Main Street facade,” with a height of four stories on Main Street and stepping back to three stories for the Pleasant Street facade “in response to the adjacent single-family houses.” The fifth and highest floor is 57 feet high, which is “eight feet lower than permitted,” Teas said in a memo to the city.
Laustsen expressed concern that the north side of the hotel still has an appearance “that has a very blank kind of wall.”
"We'll continue to find a good solution,” Teas said. Bodine added that a drab gray on the north side of the building says “Hello, I'm a mass (building) when you come in to Rockland.”
Well before the Planning Board meeting, residents from the south side, including a portion of Pleasant Street near the proposed hotel, made their views known through letters sent to the city.
In a May 5 “press release” from residents, Debby Atwell wrote that she and her neighbors believe “the protective intention of the downtown zoning ordinance is being defied to usher in an oversized, towering hotel that bears no resemblance or relationship to the historical feel of the mixed use and residential neighborhood.” She also expressed that a 26-room hotel with no on-site parking at such a busy intersection should be subject to “a traffic study from all three directions, including the impact of valet parking, service trucks and pavers.”
Resident George Terrien, who wrote a letter received by the city May 12, asked if any residents would want to live “in the shadow” of such a large building. “Perhaps our existing system of regulating space and bulk, making only general statements of intent, and giving citizen boards leeway to commingle aesthetic and civic judgment, is not the best way to get the future we will be happy to inhabit,” Terrien wrote. Other effective approaches to addressing building form and civic behavior exist. Let's at least learn about them.”
Barbara Michaud, a Pleasant Street homeowner, said she wants business development for Rockland, but not in her neighborhood. A recent retiree, she said her house is paid for. “But now we want to sell because we are losing the neighborhood,” she wrote in her hand-written letter received by the city May 14.
Not all of the letters were negative. Letters read by Chairman Laustsen just before the meeting, and not made available before press time, included one from from Sandra Dillon, who owns a bed and breakfast at 16 Pleasant Street. She asked for a “compromise” that would reduce the building height by one story.
A letter from Dan Bookham of Limerock Street commended Lyman for proposing “an environmentally responsible example” of a hotel that encourages “responsible density.”
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Larry Di Giovanni, a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, is returning to his daily reporting roots in order to cover the city of Rockland for The Courier-Gazette. Originally from Athens, Ohio, his family includes one son, Tony.
Di Giovanni has covered news beats ranging from the city of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., to the largest tribal government in the United States — the Navajo Nation. He has also worked as a writer in the public education and higher education fields. He's an animal enthusiast and loves dogs.
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