The design of the Rockport Harbor Hotel

We are writing regarding the question of whether the design of the Rockport Harbor Hotel is in harmony with Rockport village.

Our firm, Scholz & Barclay Architecture, has years of experience rehabilitating and adding to historic Maine buildings, including the Camden Public Library, the Belfast Free Library and Rockport’s iconic “Beechnut” stone house, winning state and national awards in the process. Meg was formerly the chair of the Camden Historic Resources Committee and currently serves on Camden’s Design Team. Our opinion of this project is professional and grounded in experience with the aesthetic and cultural problems raised by design changes in an historic context.

The new hotel lies in the Rockport Historic District, enrolled in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The hotel’s adjacency to the Martin and Shepard Blocks means that applying The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation is appropriate in evaluating its design.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings recommends:

  • New additions should be designed and constructed so that the character-defining features of the historic building are not radically changed, obscured, damaged, or destroyed in the process of rehabilitation. New design should always be clearly differentiated so that the addition does not appear to be part of the historic resource.
  • Considering the attached exterior addition, both in terms of the new use and the appearance of other buildings in the historic district or neighborhood, design for the new work may be contemporary or may reference design motifs from the historic building. In either case, it should always be clearly differentiated from the historic building and be compatible in terms of mass, materials, relationship of solids to voids, and color.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings specifically recommends against:

  • Duplicating the exact form, material, style, and detailing of the historic building in the new addition so that the new work appears to be part of the historic building.
  • Imitating a historic style or period of architecture in new additions, especially for contemporary uses such as drive-in banks or garages.
  • Using the same wall plane, roof line, cornice height, materials, siding lap or window type to make additions appear to be a part of the historic building.

Based on the Secretary of the Interior’s standards, an infill structure between the two historic brick blocks in the Rockport Historic District could have had a modern façade, crisply delineating the new from the historic.

The hotel design has chosen the alternate path to delineation from the historic fabric. While the design references adjacent historic design motifs (brick skin, decorative cornice, granite lintels, arches, and a slate mansard roof) it uses strong visual clues such as setbacks from the street plane of the historic structures, changes in cornice and roof heights, balconies, and contemporary windows to distinguish it from its historic neighbors.

Our opinion is the hotel design fulfills the national standard for additions to historic buildings, while honoring the beauty of Rockport’s historic commercial buildings. Claims to the contrary are based on personal opinion and not an objective standard.

Respectfully,

Meg Barclay and John Scholz

Camden

 

Hotel Thoughts

The Muse inspires in curious ways. Our thoughts about Rockport’s current “plainte du jour” – the construction of the Rockport Harbor Hotel, have been inspired by recent armchair reading. First, we saw a Wall Street Journal cartoon showing an astronomer gazing into space with the caption, “The universe is vast… and has surprisingly little parking.” Bingo! Couldn’t we all catch our breath for a moment and ask ourselves where, in less-spacious New England, is there a parking Valhalla? Think about it. Are Camden, Wiscasset, Belfast all parking perfect? Or does life in quaint, busy villages presuppose parking congestion? The Rockport hotel is simply another player on the stage in the parking drama and, quite frankly, the developer’s plan to utilize off-site valet parking goes a long way toward assuaging the parking panic.

Our second inspiration on this problem raises a more serious concern. Some fireside reading of an early essay by T.S. Eliot in “The Harvard Advocate” places the whole hotel brouhaha in sharp relief. Eliot scorns New Englanders for “Their somber faces, with an inflexible contraction of the lips (with) natures difficult and unyielding, as the consequence of…interminable struggle against the narrow resources of New England.” Second bingo! The Rockport town government has been assailed by a somber group of complainants who have given themselves the maladroit title of “Friends of Rockport.”

What, besides parking, are their complaints? They say the hotel is too big, doesn’t blend in with adjacent buildings, and blocks the view. The view issue is easiest to dismiss. Any building, including those already on the street, once erected, will, a priori, block the view. Think about that. If “blocking the view” were to be a planning board’s default position for denying building permits, the result would be a pretty barren landscape. Further, the view over the hotel site has only been visible since the previous building there fell down in 1972. The “doesn’t blend in” complaint is a throwback to the now-debunked opinion of the earlier opponents of the new library. It doesn’t pass the eye test. One need only stand in front of the ascendant hotel (or library) to see that the brickwork is virtually identical to the two extant buildings.

Now – too many guest rooms? In the words of our illustrious President, “C’mon, man!”  Rockport’s “downtown” is a scant block long. It includes an opera house, two restaurants and an art gallery. When one first sees this epicenter of town, there is an immediate recognition of a paucity of commerce and related services. The inclusion of a beautifully- designed Rockport Harbor Hotel will not turn Central Street into Coney Island. Rather, it will provide a commercial and focal anchor point of high-quality lodging, hospitality services and a structural completion of Rockport’s village center.

One final thought on the “somber faces” who are suing the town on the hotel project – even going so far as to suggest tearing it down. Not only is there no justifiable cause for their suit, but their action is also costing taxpayers dearly in legal fees – currently at $130,000! We serve on two town committees – Doc is on the Harbor Committee; Haunani is chair of the Parks and Beautification Committee. We are in the midst of the town’s budget season, and we are planning, pleading, scraping and scrimping in a concerted effort to make the case for much-needed funds to support a high-quality harbor and parks system. That $130,000 wasted in legal fees would fully fund those programs. Think about that!

Doc and Haunani Wallace

Rockport

 

There’s a right way to engage consultants

Camden’s Town government committed to hiring yet another consultant to help sort out issues associated with the Megunticook River. This time it wants help to implement storm water and other projects as well as to educate the public about recommended actions.

Camden’s recently completed Inter-Fluve Report on the Megunticook fit the town’s needs like Cinderella’s shoe fit the feet of her stepsisters. That’s because Inter-Fluve was asked to fulfill the requirements of a federal resiliency program which wasn’t geared to our situation on the Megunticook. A report’s usefulness is compromised when conclusions are formed before the technical work even begins. Perhaps this mistaken approach won’t be repeated.

And, ironically, the report cost the taxpayers considerably more money than it would have cost to repair the Montgomery Dam. To what end?

The first Inter-Fluve report (Spring 2019) was focused primarily on the Montgomery Dam and its waterfall. The report is well-written and factual, full of sound engineering, but has been used to describe a problem that doesn’t exist. Inter-Fluve is a reputable firm with excellent engineers, but they would have produced a different product with differing priorities and conclusions if they had been given a revised, more carefully prepared, scope of work. Unfortunately, the report meanders down a river of generalities, propelled by mountains of data and observations and then discharges three ill-formed alternatives into the public realm.

Central to a successful consultant-seeking process is development of a good scope of work prepared with the help of available or hired experts. The scope of work must be based on a clear understanding of the existing problems as a prelude to seeking reasonable pathways to solve them. It outlines the problem to be solved, identifies detailed tasks to be accomplished and the expected products (deliverables) from the outside experts.

Consultant assistance can only be as good as the client’s ability first to grasp the problem. If the Camden Select Board doesn’t fully understand or adequately explain the problem, confusion follows. The voters should be involved in identifying and reviewing those problems and exactly what is being requested from the consultant. Afterall, we pay the bills.

What problems on the Megunticook is the Select Board trying to solve this time? How will they relate to the Inter-Fluve Report? Will there be a detailed, carefully thought-out Scope of Work for public review or is the Town Manager simply going to write up something from the Town Office? Will there be an official Request for Proposals? Will the town move ahead with construction drawings, or will this be yet another preliminary study?

The Select Board now favors the idea of an “Advisory Committee.” Will the promised Advisory Committee be established before the Consultant comes on board, perhaps to help in the selection process, or will the committee be created after the consultant is chosen? Will the committee represent a wide variety of views and expertise?

So far, the Select Board hasn’t revealed any plans to share any more information on what the consultant will be expected to accomplish. So far, it appears from discussion at the Select Board meeting on Jan. 11 that the board is continuing its habit of spending available town money on half-formulated ideas of what must be accomplished. A vague reference to storm water issues just isn’t adequate.

Is this new initiative being done to attract federal or state grant opportunities? Good, if so, what are those grant opportunities? Are they going to address real problems along the Megunticook?

Camden residents deserve full transparency. Before the Select Board spends any more money on river projects, it is necessary to prepare a detailed scope of work. The scope should be discussed openly by the Select Board and available for public review before consultants are solicited.

If the proposed Advisory Committee is not established before the request for proposals is issued, members should be appointed in time to meet with the consultant at the very beginning of the project. The committee will hopefully provide a safeguard from the kind of setbacks that to date have plagued the town on its Megunticook resiliency activity.

Roger Akeley

Camden

 

Response to Guest Column

[Ed. Note: the column by Roger Akeley was published in the Jan. 13, 2022, issue of the Camden Herald.]

I want to compliment Mr. Akeley on his excellent column on the Camden Falls issue and our Select Board’s not always above-board behavior. I agree completely, and the Select Board should be embarrassed by their cloak and dagger actions. They are representatives of the town population and should not be making major decisions without first presenting the facts to the voters for their feedback. This obviously was not done.

I am not in favor of their plan to demolish the Montgomery Dam. The argument presented by the Select Board is full of flaws and does not justify the dam’s removal. Mr. Akeley listed these flaws so I won’t repeat them here, but I would ask every citizen and voter in Camden to think carefully and research the actual facts before making their decision. Once the historic structures are destroyed, they cannot be replaced — neither can the town’s historic character.

Jo Ann Simon
Camden

 

Thank you

I am writing on behalf of the Camden Rotary Club to thank everyone who supported our sale of gourmet nuts over the holidays.We enjoyed meeting friends and neighbors at our downtown sales table in front of French & Brawn Marketplace and greatly appreciate Todd and Sarah Anderson’s generous provision of that space for us.Thanks also to the Penobscot Bay YMCA, Camden National Bank, The First, and TD Bank for displaying nuts for their visitors to purchase — and of course to our generous customers!This year’s sale netted $6,246 for local nonprofit organizations, our second-highest profit in its 25-year history. Every penny will go toward charitable grants to local nonprofit organizations.In the last two years, our club has contributed some $56,000 to our community in the form of charitable grants, and we will distribute more grants this spring. Recent recipients of our grants include New Hope for Women, Coastal Opportunities, Cooking for Community, Bay Chamber Concerts & Music School, Knox County Homeless Coalition, MCH Meals on Wheels, and Area Interfaith Outreach Energy Assistance Program.We are now welcoming grant applications from nonprofit organizations in Knox County and Lincolnville. Complete details are available at camdenrotary.org. We look forward to awarding new grants this spring, thanks in no small part to the money we raised through this sale.Yours sincerely,Bob BaldwinCamden Rotary Club Nut Sales Chair