Planning Board members, our future depends on you
Members of the Rockland Planning Board, you have before you two of the most important projects we have seen in some time, projects that will shape the future of our community.
This week, the city is abuzz with talk of Stuart Smith's plans for a new 65-room inn on Ocean Street overlooking scenic Rockland Harbor and the boardwalk. This is over by what everyone refers to as the "former MBNA" building or Boston Financial.
There are a number of features that seem to make this a positive thing for the community. It will create about 27 jobs, provide the city with property tax revenues (not another nonprofit, which prompts some to complain) and seems like a great place for visitors to stay during the busy summer season.
We can already see visiting blues musicians walking down to the North Atlantic Blues Festival from there and others enjoying the sounds from their rooms. We can just about see the views from the balconies, the public landing bristling with sailboat masts at twilight. What a sight that will be. Might this be a place to stand with your spyglass and take in the windjammer parade?
The other positive we see is that this is one of two hotel proposals now being discussed in the city, which must be a good sign that the economy is finally, really recovering in some meaningful way.
We are informed there will be residents at the planning board meeting tonight who do not see this in as positive a light. The most obvious drawback is that it will interfere with views now enjoyed by those either living in or visiting Rockland's south end.
The comprehensive plan will be invoked. It is reported to have opposed projects that limit views of the water.
However, what better use for waterfront property than a hotel allowing people to enjoy it? A park and walkway are very nice, but it is a lot to ask a property owner not to try to make some money off this resource.
We do ask, and believe this is the plan, that the entire boardwalk remain open to the general public in the foreseeable future. The planning board should make sure developers commit to keeping access to the water open to all.
We are happy to see call centers and hotels rather than manufacturing operations on the water.
Another question that has been raised is feasibility. Will this hurt other area hotels, and could it make money? Smith and his family have experience running inns, and we see plenty of demand for rooms in this area.
Those discussing the matter on our website have asked those opposed to the project if they are from here originally.
The answer, of course, is that people who live and pay taxes in Rockland, whether they moved here last week or were born here, have a right to state their opinions. We hear worthwhile comments from those on both sides of this perceived divide. Aside from that, it is best in a debate to stick to arguing the issues rather than attacking one's opponent. The newcomers and "natives" will share the future of this community together.
Based on what we have seen so far, we would say this looks like a good project for Rockland, but public interest and discussion are beneficial, because this is an important decision.
In addition to the inn on the harbor, the planning board will continue to look at the plans for the Center for Maine Contemporary Art on Winter Street. This project, like the inn, could bring an interesting new landmark to our city. In addition, it has the potential to cement Rockland's reputation as the arts capital of the Midcoast.
So members of the planning board, we look to you. The pressure is on, but you can handle it.