Public hearing on library proposal set for Aug. 5
Rockport — Rockport selectmen did not allow public comment July 14 on a proposal to place the issue of a new library on the ballot, citing an upcoming Aug. 5 public hearing as a better opportunity.
The meeting room at Rockport Opera House was filled to capacity in anticipation of public comment being allowed but residents instead were told by Chairman William Chapman the board would not accept comment but rather save the discussion for the public hearing.
This decision was met with some displeasure from the audience. Chapman explained that due to some logistical questions, he was unable to make a completely informed decision until just prior to the meeting on whether public comment would be allowed.
“The issue would have been disseminating all the information to everyone equally. I had been considering this for several days; I wasn't sure I was on proper ground until today and that is why I did not make that kind of announcement earlier,” he said.
Chapman said hearing all comments and discussion at the same time allows everyone the opportunity to hear what is said and a chance to respond.
Selectman Geoffrey Parker worked as an advocate for those who planned to speak and asked Chapman to provide clarification on the next steps in the process.
“Tonight we are going to receive a request -- that is what I have been told and that is what is on the agenda -- we will receive a request from the library committee to be placed on the November ballot,” Chapman said. “They will present us wording of what that item will be, we will receive it and if we have any questions directed to the library committee we will ask them – otherwise we will hold any decisions until after we have had public comment on Aug. 5. We will not make any decisions prior to that and I can not tell you what we will do at that meeting because until we hear from the public we will not make any decisions.”
When asked for clarification from the audience on whether or not public comment would be taken when the library committee presented its request, Chapman replied, “only amongst the select board members.”
Parker asked Chapman if it was fair to say that the public hearing slated for Aug. 5 is the next step, which Chapman confirmed.
After concluding the discussion about public comment, the select board heard the request from the library committee to place the request to go to the voters in November.
“The process leading up to this recommendation has been unfolding for years,” said Library Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil. “Since the 2004 Comprehensive Plan charged the library committee with expanding the current facility or constructing a new facility on one of Rockport's major routes.”
Meil spoke about the number of public meetings and the series of five neighborhood listening sessions. She said she felt confident citizens were heard and their input was invaluable to reaching the final conclusion that the site of the former Rockport Elementary School is the most suitable location.
“I've been working on the question of our library's future for years now and I am convinced that a new facility adjacent to the ball fields on the RES site could live up to Rockport's needs and aspirations without losing the comfortable, friendly, cozy, Maine library the residents will love,” Meil said.
She added, “I'm not asking you to take my word for it, The library committee respectfully requests that all Rockport voters have the opportunity to vote for or against developing a plan for a new library on the portion of the RES site, adjacent to the ball fields this November.”
After hearing the proposal, the select board voted in favor of placing a non-binding resolution on the ballot and then set the date and time for a public hearing. The public hearing will take place Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. in the upstairs of Rockport Opera House.
The committee identified eight possible locations and used 11 different criteria to rank them in order of best scenarios, according to previously published reports. Other sites considered besides the current and RES sites were Memorial Park across from the library; a combined site of the current library property and Memorial Park; the former Center for Maine Contemporary Arts building; a large commercial site on Route 1; Camden Hills Regional High School library and a Rockport Properties site on Central Street abutting the Shepherd's Pie Building, adjacent to Mary Lea Park.
In July 2013, nearly 100 residents attended a meeting at Rockport Opera House to support the notion there is room for expansion at the current location in the village after it was suggested the former RES site might be more suitable.
To that end, in the following November, residents voted to make a change to the Shoreland Zone Overlay District, adding municipal buildings to the acceptable use section of the ordinance. With plans approved by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, renovation or new construction of the public library could take place at its existing location in the harbor village.
In May, the Library Committee endorsed a plan for the construction of a new library on the former RES site at the intersection of routes 1 and 90. A study, funded by a $15,000 grant secured by former library director Molly Larson, was completed and determined RES was the most suitable site as it already is owned by the town.
Dwight Collins is a reporter/photographer for The Camden Herald.
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