Thirteen Rockport residents have submitted an open letter to the town, urging that the community retain ownership of the former Rockport Elementary School property, known as RES East.

“This 7-acre (plus or minus) parcel at the corner of West Street and Route 1 was given by the Harkness family to use in the mid 1800s,” the letter said. “Since then many generations have enjoyed this generous gift.”

In November, a committee overseeing the redevelopment of the property on West Street began to gather ideas on the future use of the parcel, making a list of attributes, characteristics and qualities that could be attached to any project on the parcel. That process has continued through the winter with discussions on issues such as public amenities, commercial opportunities, scale and code parameters, recreation, financing, and ownership options.

Rockport Director of Planning and Community Development Tom Ford said March 2 that future plans would depend on approval, by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, of an application for an expansion of the Route 1 Tax Increment Financing District. On Nov. 3, Rockport citizens voted 1,001 to 652 to submit the application to include the RES East property in the Route 1 TIF district.

On Feb. 4 the RES East Redevelopment Committee and about 10 other citizens heard a presentation by Thomaston Town Manager Val Blastow Jr. That presentation was designed to familiarize the Rockport group with the experiences Thomaston has had with designers and planners as they work toward redeveloping the former Maine State Prison property.

Ford gave attendees at the Feb. 4 meeting an update on the attribute identification process. He said March 2 that the characteristics and qualities of the property listed by approximately 40 people who attended two meetings held in November and December had not been ranked. These attributes included recognizing the significance of the intersection and the parcel itself, avoiding mini malls or a “franchise look,” designing any development with a sense of scale and consistency with the character of the village, retaining some recreational uses, and avoiding an increased tax burden to the town.

In their recent letter, the 13 residents supported keeping the land available for recreational uses.

“The ball field is used by both children and adults and is the only significant open public space east of Commercial Street,” they said. “It may well be that the town will need this site for a future use or to expand an existing program.”

“We believe that retaining this valuable parcel is in the best interest of the town of Rockport,” they said. “The original intent of the gift was for this land to be enjoyed by Rockport’s citizens. [It’s a] prime location — visible and open space cannot be replaced once sold.”

The letter concluded with a request that others contact members of the Rockport Select Board to urge them to hold on to the property.

Ford said the heating system in the former school buildings was shut down for the winter and the pipes were drained and winterized. He said the annual cost to heat the school had been $40,000.

Future action will depend on the decision of the Department of Economic and Community Development in regard to extension of the TIF district. Ford said any future meeting of the RES East Redevelopment Committee will not take place before the end of March.

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