Vision for Camden-Rockport gateway discussed at joint board meeting
Rockport — Ideas on how to improve a section of Route 1 from Leonard’s in Rockport to Quarry Hill in Camden through a joint community grant were discussed at a combined session of the Camden and Rockport select and planning boards Feb. 18 at Rockport Town Office.
Frank O’Hara, vice president of Planning Decisions, moderated the workshop that was designed for the two towns to brainstorm options to improve traffic flow at the intersection north of Hannaford Supermarket where John Street, Camden Street and Conway Road converge with Route 1.
The group also talked about improvements to make the section of road more attractive to the eye and create a more pedestrian-friendly corridor. The addition of a mixture of business and residences to the section was also a topic of conversation.
“The purpose of meeting tonight is to talk about, in general, and to make people aware of an opportunity with the gateway grant between Camden and Rockport and to hear information about it. To kick around ideas between the boards and to think about how to proceed in the next steps,” O’Hara said.
Camden Town Planner and Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson gave an overview of what lies ahead in dealing with such a project from his town’s perspective.
“We've got some prime unused spaces that are hard to develop and other areas that are dilapidated, plus a very tough intersection to deal with,” Wilson said. ”We hope in actually partnering and not creating such a stark contrast between Camden and Rockport and they should blend together - they've got roots together, ties together - there has to be a softer approach bringing the two towns together.”
Wilson said he presented the situation as it exists and ideas on how to proceed with the project should come from the boards.
Camden’s biggest hurdle is the traffic pattern from Hannaford Supermarket north to the top of the hill where three streets converge on to Route 1. Don White, vice-chairman of Camden Select Board suggested one solution would be to create a four-way traffic signal by re-routing Camden Street to the south.
“I think one of the options we have is to make the light at Hannaford a four-way light,” White said. “If you make it a four-way intersection, you take any congestion of John Street and Conway Road completely out of the equation.”
Other ideas such as a roundabout or an new form of traffic control called Double Crossover Diamond interchange (DCD) also were discussed. According to Rockport Selectman Geoffrey Parker, a DCD is a type of intersection shaped like diamonds, in which the two directions of traffic on the road cross to the opposite side of the freeway in order to switch direction and create a safer left turn.
“The left-hand turns messes up everything,” Parker said.
Rockport Planner and Community Development Director Bill Najpauer said he felt that from Rockport’s side, zoning is already in place for the introduction of commercial and residential buildings.
“One of the things that I want to focus on is what the potential on the Rockport side is,” Najpauer said. “One of the things that is fortunate for us is that both sides of Route 1 is what we call a 907 mixed commercial and residential district, so we have already set the stage for allowing both residential and commercial uses in this area.”
Najpauer noted there are some limitations to the zoning, including restricting building footprints to 6,000-square-feet and restrictions on landscaping and architectural standards.
After a break-out session to discuss the project, board members made it clear that the hopes are for better traffic flow on that section of Route 1 by reducing speed limits and fixing the existing traffic flow issues in Camden. Secondly, members would like to see an ability to increase pedestrian traffic, through planting trees to divide the roadway from walking areas as well as adding sidewalks and walking paths.
Town officials would also like to see esthetic improvements to make the area more appealing, without being to “cutesy,” they said.
Some said they would like to see some sort of visitor’s center in the area of Maritime Farms, in conjunction with Concord Trailways Bus Service.
Less attention paid to pedestrian traffic and shifting motor vehicle traffic away from existing businesses were a concern, as were making sure that all of the stakeholders - such as the Department of Transportation, residents and business owners - are contacted and allowed to express their feelings on the project.
“I feel that we really need to get everyone who has a stake in the project together at the same time to see what they can bring to the table,” White said.
A joint committee will be established to further study potential projects in the gateway area. White suggested two people from each of the boards, the two town managers and the two town planners make up the committee.
“I think we are almost there and if the staff can congeal this information and bring it back to the committee, I think we are in really good shape,” said Camden Town Manager Patricia Finnigan.
Rockport Town Manager Rick Bates reflected Finnigan’s remarks and said he felt the two towns are in a great spot to take advantage of some opportunities.
“I think this is a tremendous opportunity for the two towns to take a look at this shared area and ask how we can make it better,” he said. “This is something very concrete that both towns could and should work together on.”