Planning Board member resigns following CMCA vote
Rockland — George Terrien, a Rockland architect, submitted his resignation from the city Planning Board April 2, the day following the board's decision to approve plans for the Center for Maine Contemporary Art on Winter Street.
In his resignation letter, sent to Mayor Larry Pritchett, Terrien acknowledges the vote on CMCA played a role in his decision to leave the board.
CMCA plans to tear down the present building at 21 Winter St. and build a new $2.5 million, 11,886-square-foot contemporary art center.
In Planning Board meetings over the past few months, Terrien argued plans for the center do not meet the requirements of the city's downtown zone, the Tillson Avenue Area Overlay Zone and the Minimum Architectural Design Standards.
Specifically, he raised concerns about plans for a 62-foot long, 26-foot high art gallery wall along Winter Street. The city's design standards state: "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."
At the March 18 meeting, he posed three questions, illustrating his concerns:
1. Do windows and doors, located at frequent intervals more or less continuously along the first few feet above the sidewalk of Main Street, constitute “architectural elements”?
2. Are these elements “characteristic of the predominant architecture of structures on Main Street between Park and Lindsey Streets constructed prior to 1941”?
3. Is there anywhere along this portion of Main Street referenced in the ordinance where such elements are absent? Or, asked another way, is there a section of wall along this existing streetscape anywhere near comparable to the dimensions and character of the wall proposed for the CMCA gallery?
"Unless we answer all three of these questions in the affirmative, I do not think we can make the finding that allows us to approve the application," Terrien said in an email. "And I do not see how we can answer the third question with anything but 'no.'"
At the next meeting, April 1, Terrien asked to have the planning board take a straw vote on these three questions. Planning Board Chairman Erik Laustsen and board member Peta vanVuuren objected.
Laustsen and others at the meeting said the project met all of the standards. Architects Toshiko Mori and Hye-Young Chung of the firm Toshiko Mori Architect in New York City and Will Gartley of Gartley & Dorsky Engineering & Surveying, Inc. addressed the city requirements point-by-point in their presentation.
The architects explained how the project meets setback requirements and incorporates specific architectural elements that pay homage to the history of Rockland's downtown while giving the museum a contemporary look in keeping with its use as a contemporary art center.
However, the issue had become not only whether the requirements had been spoken to in the application, but also how they were interpreted.
The requirements also 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."
The majority of the Planning Board, which voted 3-2 to find the project met the design standards, believed the project met the requirements.
City Attorney Kevin Beal provided a memo to the planning board and CMCA prior to the meeting, saying the board needed to require CMCA to comply with both the development standards and minimum architectural standards.
He said the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has determined when interpreting a statute or ordinance, the most fundamental rule is to look first to the plain meaning of the statutory language.
Terrien argued before the board, that the ordinance standards were plain and that disagreeing with his interpretation of them was disagreeing with the English language.
At the April 1 meeting, he felt Beal should be allowed to address questions about the standards.
"My decision follows last night's meeting of the board, though not resulting solely for any single action," Terrien wrote in his resignation letter. "I cannot, however, accept the board's refusal to consult with the city attorney, who was sitting in the audience, to help to resolve a disagreement about the meaning of a sentence in his memorandum, which had been requested by the board to address a question in the claimed ambiguity of the ordinance."
The memo from the attorney also states, "However, if two statutes or ordinances on the same subject matter generate competing interpretations, you are to adopt the interpretation that avoids a result adverse to the public interest."
Terrien served as the senior alternate on the planning board, but he was a voting member in the review of CMCA's project.
The other board members are Laustsen, vanVuuren, William Bodine, Kyle Swan, and alternate Abbie Knicklebein.
"As mayor, I would like to thank George for volunteering with the city," Pritchett said in an email. "I spoke with him earlier today and told him that. George will continue to serve on the City's Economic Development Committee.
"I would also like to thank the other five members of the planning board for spending many, many hours trying to thoughtfully and carefully review the projects that come before the planning board. These hard-working volunteers provide a great service to the community."
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122.