Rockport home may be demolished for future library parking, expansion
Rockport — Alex Armentrout announced before the Rockport Select Board Feb. 15 that he and members of a citizen group have engaged in a six-month contract to buy a home at 3 Limerock St., next to the Rockport Public Library, which he said could be used to provide parking and space for a new library.
The contract expires in early August, and the asking price for the property is approximately $457,000.
The group's intent is to raise money to purchase the home through private fundraising. The money raised would be put in an account to hold contributions for transfer to the town to purchase the property directly from the homeowners with the intent to provide additional space for parking and expansion should a new library be built at the 1 Limerock St. location.
"I have been asked by a local citizen group to make this presentation," said Armentrout, who said that the purchase of the property, which directly abuts the current library building, would involve local architects and engineers working to create a new library proposal for the June ballot.
"A team of local architects and engineers stands ready to prepare at no cost to the town design drawings for a smaller library, less costly than the proposal voted on last November. This team awaits direction from the Select Board as to the parameters of this building," said Armentrout.
Armentrout said the intention of the group is to purchase the property through fundraising, adding, "obviously, if all funds are not raised privately, public funds would be needed to complete the purchase. We do not expect that to happen."
The 3 Limerock St. property encompasses a parcel of land that is approximately 7,300 square feet in area. On the site is a Greek Revival style home, built in 1850. The home is currently owned by Joanne Scott, who was approached about selling it by a member of this citizen group, Nick Ruffin.
Armentrout read a statement by Ruffin, who he said had taken on a leadership role in the group and was instrumental in setting up a contract with the Scotts:
"When our dogs are here, I take them on walks, and one of our regular routes is to walk through the center of the village. We go by the library and Memorial Park several times a week. We go up Limerock or out Russell [Avenue] to make a loop. I know the corner well. The new library should be there.”
Armentrout was accompanied by attorney Paul Gibbons, who represents Ruffin and worked with the Scott's attorney on the six-month contract to purchase the property.
Gibbons said the property's $457,000 asking price is the same as the town assessed value of the home. He said that for tax purposes, the money raised would be placed in a separate account, and then the town would use the money to purchase the property directly from the Scotts.
“It's a six-month contract, which means that after six months we don't have that contract anymore, so time is chasing us. We intend to raise this money to buy the property, but we can't really raise this money until we have a commitment from the town that the town is going to go with this site," said Gibbons.
“You will note that in the agreement it makes reference in parenthesis to a drawing by Steve Smith Architects," said Gibbons to the Board members. "We did that to show Joanne Scott why we were interested in buying the property. And it wasn't just for a parking lot, it was also so that we could expand the building and make it less than a three-story building and redesign the building.”
The Feb. 15 meeting was the third in a series of special library workshops held by the Rockport Select Board seeking input from residents as well as architects and engineers in the community since undertaking the job of selecting a site for a new library building. In addition to the 1 Limerock St. location, the Board is also considering the former Rockport Elementary School site on West Street.
These discussions began after the previous library proposal, for a $4 million, 9,360-square-foot building at 1 Limerock St. failed at the November polls. Many residents who voted against the proposal spoke at public forums, citing cost and parking as motivating factors. The proposal had involved creating parking spaces across from the library in Memorial Park.
Advocates of the former Rockport Elementary School site have spoken at previous meetings, touting the benefits of the much larger location and its nearness to the intersection of Routes 1 and 17 and the possibility of ample parking.
Rockport Select Board Chairman Bill Chapman told Armentrout and Gibbons that the Board was not prepared to make a site decision at the Feb. 15 meeting.
Selectman Ken McKinley asked Gibbons what, if any, provisions would be placed on the 3 Limerock St. property, should it be gifted to the town. The 1 Limerock St. property, where the current library structure stands, had been given to the town by Helen Bok with the provision that the site was only used for a library, though it is unclear how long that provision stands.
Gibbons said no restrictions would be placed on the 3 Limerock St. property, though it would be given to the town with the purpose of making a future library project fit in the neighborhood and provide parking.
"I think you should think long and hard about the gift of the Scott house, tearing down an authentic Greek Revival on the green and leaving a void like that for a parking lot," said Rockport resident Marianne Young during a period of public comment. "You would leave a void of history, beauty, character of our town. I'm shaken to my core that we're thinking about tearing that house down."
Young added that the back of properties on that side of Limerock Street lead to an area of open land and a small stream. The stream drains from Lily Pond and the grazing pastures at Aldermere Farm, which is associated with Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
"There's a sanctuary in the back that a lot of our homes surround; a brook, a fly way for birds. We're talking about trading a beautiful home for asphalt. I think you should be sensitive about that," Young said.
Donald Flock, who lives at 5 Limerock St., said that demolishing the house at 3 Limerock St. would be "disregarding our property," and that "having a parking lot 16 feet from our bedroom is not desirable."
"I think people [from prior generations] would be ashamed of us if people were complaining about walking a half a block to take out a book," said Flock referring to comments that there wasn't already sufficient parking near 1 Limerock. "Go home. When you get there, look at your property and imagine having blacktop right next to your property."
Armentrout said the citizen group involved with the purchase of the house was making an effort to address the issue of parking, which had been raised in the past by those in favor of the RES site.
"You can't have it both ways. Either parking is a problem and it's dealt with, or it's not," he said.
The group of specialists who would be donating their time pro bono to create the library proposal for a June vote would include Will Gartley as engineer and Mazie Cox and Brinkley Thorne as architects, Armentrout said. Cox and Thorne, who live near the library, have spoken at previous public forums in favor of the 1 Limerock St. site.
The Board also heard from Rockport Town Planner Jamie Francomano, community planner Jane LeFleur of Camden and landscape architect Terry DeWan of Yarmouth. The three spoke in favor of citing the library at 1 Limerock St., and LaFleur suggested that the RES site could serve the community better if a multi-use building were placed there.
"A single use on a single lot is a waste," said Lafleur, who showed slides of a shopping mall structure with apartments on the second floor as part of her presentation. "A block with one building is less complex than a block with several buildings," said Lafleur.
DeWan spoke in favor of building the library at 1 Limerock St., saying that the view approaching the library site needs a significant building there to "terminate the vista." He added the RES property sits on silt loam and is poorly drained, making it difficult to build upon.
Chapman said there may be a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21 to discuss what information and opinion the Board has received so far. He anticipates a decision made between the RES and 1 Limerock sites to be announced at the next scheduled meeting of the Select Board on Monday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. in the meeting room of the Rockport Opera House.
Courier Publications reporter Louis Bettcher can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.