Rockport listening tours bring forth community concerns
Rockport — The town of Rockport has seen a number of firsts recently, including a select board listening tour and participation of a selectman via computer program Facetime during a workshop meeting Oct. 15.
The workshop was called to allow select board members to summarize and discuss the results of a recent six-week listening tour. Selectman Ken McKinley was not able to attend the meeting in person but joined those seated at the table through an Internet connection.
The workshop began with each select board member sharing thoughts about each of the stops on the listening tour as they took place and continued by addressing concerns by village as they were visited.
The village of Rockville left the impression of a great amount of history and sense of community. Fifteen residents attended the workshop.
“Every neighborhood feels it is special,” Selectman Charlton Ames said, adding residents of Rockville wish to see more sidewalks and activities based around the recently restored Rockville Chapel.
Issues that fell within the purview of Maine Department of Transportation were a common theme throughout the villages — with speeding, lack of adequate signs and road improvements topping the list.
Selectmen also acknowledged a feeling, expressed in most of the outlying villages, of being ignored.
“The biggest bang for the buck has been projects in the village,” Town Manager Robert Peabody said, adding Rockport Village improvements also are more visible.
Simonton Corner was described by Selectman Geoff Parker as having an “identity crisis” based on residents of the area having a hard time defining the borders of the village. But select board members noted a sense of community regardless of where the border may truly lie. Eight people attended the workshop.
The 18 West Rockport residents who attended the meeting told select board members they are most concerned about the condition of Mt. Pleasant Street as well as dangerous intersections in the area.
In Rockport Village, concerns centered around parking and traffic issues. Chapman suggested installation of a traffic circle at the top of the hill where Central, Russell, Union and Limerock streets meet. Twenty residents attended.
“I love traffic circles,” he said, adding the traffic control measures tend to slow people down.
Parker noted it would be a fairly simple process at that spot but said Maine DOT would have to be involved.
The meeting in Glen Cove revealed that most residents in the area do not live on Route 1. Many houses along Route 1 were determined to be rental units and few renters attended the listening tour in that area. Concerns about roads and speeding seemed to be the most prominent issues in Glen Cove. Seventeen members of the public attended the workshop.
Businesses expressed different concerns than residents of the town. Business owners sought answers about changing the rules for business signs and making the process of planning board approval easier. Twenty-eight members of the business community attended the workshop.
“They felt the town is working against them. They are looking for a fairly significant change [to business sign rules],” Parker said, adding later he felt some of the arguments were 50 percent based on information and 50 percent based on emotion.
McKinley speculated the select board should mediate between the planning board and business owners to come to an amicable solution. Select board Chairman Bill Chapman said businesses feel they are being held to a different standard and also would like to see an increase to the square footage limitation put in place to prevent “big box” stores from moving into Rockport. He said businesses would like to be able to expand beyond the current limit set by the ordinance and many businesses still would be much smaller than a big box store. Chapman noted the square footage limitations are currently being reviewed by the Ordinance Review Committee.
Some concerns expressed by citizens in various villages were deemed already taken care of, such as a reportedly missing speed limit sign on Warrenton Street as well as shrubs and poison ivy previously trimmed back at Glen Cove Rest Area, among other items. A goal set at the end of the meeting is to identify items of concerns already taken care of by the town to be addressed during the next listening tour workshop, tentatively scheduled for January.
Other items called “low-hanging fruit” were added to a list as goals to accomplish within the current budget cycle. Those included such things as sending a letter to Maine DOT outlining projects that need to be addressed within Rockport's borders, looking into current town ordinances regarding placement of historic signs, trimming bushes obstructing drivers' views of signs, considering relocation of the Pine Hill Fort monument, contacting the town of Freeport regarding its Facebook communications with the community with the idea a similar use of Facebook could be used in Rockport to update residents on town business, considering a study of the use of town-owned parks and facilities, finding out how to “get a seat at the table” during discussions about natural gas coming through the area and meeting with the planning board to consider making changes to the process that are more business-friendly or creating a check list for business owners to use when preparing to go before the planning board.
Select board members visited Rockville, Glen Cove, Simonton Corner, West Rockport and Rockport Village in addition to meeting with local business owners during the listening tour.
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.