Despite protests from local veterans and family members of fallen war heroes, the city council voted unanimously March 11 to approve the use of part of Winslow-Holbrook Memorial Park for restaurant seating.

The Brass Compass Cafe, owned by Lynn Archer, will be allowed to use a 10-foot-wide portion of the park for tables to serve customers. The city council voted to raise the price to $1,500 this year for this use of the park, which is at the corner of Park and Main streets.

"I really think the two uses can exist side by side," said City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson, who sponsored the order to allow the tables. "It's time to set our personalities aside and get back to doing business in the city of Rockland and honoring our veterans."

Not everyone agreed with this view. Three veterans affiliated with the Winslow Holbrook Merritt American Legion Post in Rockland argued against allowing tables in the park. It was noted the park honors the memory of two men who died in World War I: Arthur E. Winslow and Albert D. Holbrook.

Gaye and Roberta Best, who are the niece and sister of Holbrook, also attended the meeting, opposing the use of the park.

"This is the only park in the city of Rockland honoring two men who died in combat," Gaye Best said.

She said she had corporate sponsors who would be interested in doing programs in the park, but not while there was a controversy surrounding it.

A local business person said she felt it is wrong for a private business to make a profit using city property.

Archer spoke on behalf of her business, saying she did not want to hurt anybody or disrespect the veterans. However, she argued her use of the park serving those who eat there has actually brought attention to the veterans.

In addition, she expressed concern for her wait staff, who she said made less than $4 per hour before tips and relied on tips in the summer to get by through the winter.

She also said she has promoted Rockland.

"I talk Rockland up because I love my town," she said.

Councilor Frank Isganitis proposed three amendments to the agreement from last year. One limited the use to 10 feet rather than the 8 feet used last year. This passed 4-1, with Dickerson opposed.

Isganitis also proposed raising the fee from $1,200 last year to $1,500. This passed 4-1 with Dickerson opposed.

Isganitis' third amendment would have allowed Archer to limit the use of the tables to paying customers during business hours. This failed by a vote of 3-2. Dickerson, Larry Pritchett and Eric Hebert voted against this while Isganitis and Mayor Will Clayton voted for it.

Hebert said he had opposed tables in the past due mostly to his concern that it gives an unfair economic advantage to allow a restaurant to use the park at a ridiculously low price. He felt that was addressed in the change in price over the past two years.

Pritchett pointed out that he is related to veterans and if he ever felt this was disrespectful to veterans he would have voted against it all along.

He felt the 12 feet originally requested by the Compass was too wide, and he was concerned that in years past the park was mistaken for a restaurant courtyard rather than a public park. He supports the city's plans to improve the park and believes that will make the focus of the park more clear to visitors.

Last year, when this issue was before the council it was noted that plans for improvements to the park had been on the books since 2009 and were expected to be completed in 2010. Last summer the city planned to add public tables. In addition, the park paving stones would be improved in the fall, according to the recent plan.

The cost of installing four granite tables and accompanying chairs was expected to be up to $10,000, City Manager James Smith said last year. He estimated it will cost another $25,000 for sidewalk and brickwork improvements.

Dickerson asked Smith March 11 about the granite tables purchased for the park last year during this controversy over the same issue. He answered they were in storage.

Dickerson expressed doubts about city plans for the park coming to fruition, noting that government moves at a "glacial pace."

Courier Publications News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached 594-4401 or by email at ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com.