Rockport residents filled the Select Board meeting Monday, March 25, to offer their thoughts on the proposed library parking plan.

In keeping with the extensive and often controversial history of the project, the public was predictably split on the issue. Several people were adamant about the need to move forward with the project, while a number of attendees decried the current plan as encroaching too much on the Memorial Park and pushed for alternative plans that preserved more of the green space and trees.

The night concluded with the board considering a motion to vote on a solution, but after several members expressed reservations about making a hasty decision, they decided to push the final verdict off to the April 7 meeting.

The current plan, which calls for 14 perpendicular spaces, one handicapped parking spot and a two-car drop-off  area on Limerock Street, as well as four cut-in parallel parking spots on Union Street and three on Russell Avenue, is out for bid as part of a packet that includes architectural drawings for the building and plans for the rebuilt intersection. Bids are due back from contractors by April 18.

Town Manager Rick Bates kicked off the proceedings with a history lesson, explaining how the town and the Select Board had arrived at the current plan. He described it as a compromise with the people who had supported a library at the former Rockport Elementary School site for the increased parking it provided. The current plan most closely resembles drawings done by architect Stephen Smith during the first round of submissions, and it has "not significantly changed" since 2016, when it was largely adopted by architect Dick Reed in the first official plans, Bates said.

Reed's plan was defeated at the polls in November 2016. Bates added that the parking plan itself was never officially voted on by the public or the Select Board, but was instead voted on as part of the overall plan that included the library and intersection. He said that although the current design does not make everyone happy, it is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of a number of architects and engineers and addresses all the challenges that "the building, the site and the intersection present. And it also meets the parking needs of the community members who will frequent the library."

In an effort to maintain civility, the board opted for a facilitated discussion led by board members Debra Hall and Jeffrey Hamilton.

Those present were then led through four potential options for parking. These included the current 14-space perpendicular plan, two similar options with five parallel-parking spaces, or 10, 60-degree diagonal spaces angling up the hill on Limerock Street, and a vastly different plan that called for combining the lots and rerouting Limerock Street through the northern section of the park with additional parking spaces.

The diagonal option was mostly unpopular, as it required designating the part of Limerock Street in front of the library site a one-way street, which residents of Limerock and Huse streets in attendance universally opposed. The parallel spots elicited a similar reaction, in that they would require people to either enter from Huse Street or turn around in driveways to park in the spaces along the park boundary. The fourth option received stronger support from those attending, based on its preservation of green space and trees.

The fourth plan presented by the Select Board was one of the original options provided by Reed in 2016, when he was originally selected to design the project. Another similar plan was brought and distributed by a member of the public. Neither of these plans, however, had any civil engineering drawings, making them difficult to consider in relation to the more polished alternatives. Select Board member Doug Cole asked Will Gartley, representing Gartley & Dorsky, the firm responsible for the civil engineering work, how long it would take to create alternative plans.

"It depends on how many meetings," Gartley replied before estimating it would take two to three weeks.

Further complicating matters, any alternative plan that involved rerouting Limerock Street from the current proposal would require a corresponding change to the proposed intersection.

Charles Frattini, advising the board on behalf of Phi Builders and carrying the microphone to speakers around the room, reiterated his thoughts from the previous meeting that minor changes or deductions in the number of spaces would constitute a relatively easy change order, but that an entirely new plan could be "greater than the budgets we have now."

Other residents brought up the importance of weighing the entire town's opinion, as opposed to paying too much attention to the concerns of the neighbors and abutters of the project. There were also several concerns voiced about the removal of trees in the park to accommodate the expanded parking. According to the current plan, seven trees would have to be removed for the spaces on Limerock and Union streets.

Although Hall expressly stated at the outset of the discussion that the meeting was not intended for the discussion of the number of spaces, but rather the plans themselves, several members of the public voiced their concerns about the amount of space 14 parking spaces would take up and whether such an increase in parking was necessary.

The public comment section was concluded with the reading of a letter written by Mary Bok, the granddaughter-in-law of Mary Louise Bok, who donated the properties containing the library and the park to the town in 1947 for the purpose of building a library. In the letter she expressed her dismay at "tearing into the park," and stated her belief that Mary Louise Bok would be deeply saddened that such a plan was even being considered.

In the Select Board discussion following the conclusion of public input, several members of the board noted the amount of public comment on the issue they had received over the past several weeks. Cole stated that although he was initially inclined to send the issue to a public vote, many of the letters urged him to "buck up" and make a decision. He added that it was obviously a divisive issue, but that the Select Board was elected to make these tough decisions.

Although several board members were uncomfortable with making a decision at the time, there was a clear consensus that the board would have to make a decision and that putting the issue to a public vote would only complicate matters and extend an already drawn-out saga. Board members appeared to be leaning toward moving ahead with the plan as currently constituted, but said they would take time before the next meeting to try to arrive at a consensus on the number of perpendicular spaces they would support.