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Council gives initial OK to block downtown parking lot

By Stephen Betts | Oct 14, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts 279 Main St.

Rockland — The Rockland City Council gave preliminary approval Oct. 14 to an ordinance that would prohibit stand-alone commercial parking lots downtown.

The ordinance goes further than the original proposal, which would have required any proposed downtown parking lots to go before the Planning Board, where conditions could be placed on any project.

Councilor Valli Geiger amended her proposal when she was informed the owner of 279 Main St. could still tear down the commercial building and create a parking lot, even under a conditional use review before the Planning Board.

The proposed ordinance is in response to a proposal by the owner of 279 Main St. to demolish most of the building and turn it into a parking lot.

Geiger said action needs to be taken, because the owner is "breaking the norm," and would go against the vision for the downtown.

The Oct. 14 vote to give preliminary approval to prohibiting commercial stand-alone parking lots in the downtown zone was 3-2 with Mayor Lisa Westkaemper and Councilor Ben Dorr siding with Geiger.

A formal public hearing and final vote on the ordinance are scheduled for Nov. 9.

Even though he voted for the ordinance, Dorr expressed reservations.

"As disgusted as I am to giving more space to vehicles, if it was my building and it was not economically viable, I would be angry if I was told I couldn't tear it down and use it as a parking lot," Dorr said.

Councilor Nate Davis agreed there was a civic good to preventing the building from being demolished, but said it was unfair to change the law in the middle of the process.

The Planning Board is scheduled Oct. 20 to review the application submitted on behalf of 279 Main St. LLC and its owner, Crystal Darling, to demolish most of the building at this address.

The detailed plans submitted to the city Oct. 6 show that the smaller southern section of the building where Frank's Family Hair Care and Breakwater Design & Build Inc. are leasing would remain standing. The bulk of the building — including where Park Street Grille has leased since 2004 — would be demolished.

Code Enforcement Officer Adam Ackor questioned whether the parking lot could be considered as part of the remaining building.

Councilor Ed Glaser said for a city to be walkable, there needs to be parking.

"People can't bicycle from New York," Glaser said.

Geiger said there is no shortage of parking downtown, pointing out there are two municipal-owned lots.

Glaser said he does not want an empty lot, and questioned whether what would be on the lot would be different than the southwest side of the intersection, where a parking lot and Walgreens sit. He also expressed concern about changing the rules after the project was proposed.

He said the city could consider a future ordinance that would require a 12-month waiting period for buildings to be demolished to give the city time to come up with alternatives for property owners.

Most of the tenants in the 279 Main St. building were unaware of the planned demolition until after the initial application was filed with the city's code office on behalf of Darling Sept. 14.

The estimated cost of the project is $175,000. The parking lot construction would be completed in late 2021, according to the application.

The 15,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1953. The building was constructed several months after one of Rockland's worst fires destroyed several blocks in 1952.

Tenants mentioned the building needs many repairs.

279 Main St. LLC has owned the property since 2017. Before that, the late Frank Ferraiolo owned the property since 1995. Before 1995, the building was a Sears store.

Rockland filed a tax lien against 279 Main St. LLC last month for about $34,000 in unpaid taxes.

Darling was also president of the Waterfront Group, which sold, in July, the property that includes the former Black Pearl restaurant. She attempted to get approval in May 2019 for a restaurant on the property, but the Planning Board rejected it, because the new structure would have been located on a section that has been used as a road for more than 50 years.

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Comments (7)
Posted by: Deborah Clarisse Morrison | Oct 19, 2020 11:13

The councilors should keep in mind what is now city parks on Main Street were once building lots.  Repose Hardware/Westen Auto was one and I think it was Car Quest down by by the ferry works both ways. Archers used to be Stinson Canning!  Things come and go all the time.  Money will drive most changes.  If it cost too much to repair, tear it down to save the skyrocketing taxes.  Someone will then come along with plans to develop a motel there and in 10 years we will all forget what was there when we were kids.  SM

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Oct 15, 2020 18:26

How many years I have listened to the need for a comprehensive plan. Every time we get a plan someone else blows into town with their expertise from away.

Posted by: George Terrien | Oct 15, 2020 12:06

The report that "Councilor Nate Davis agreed there was a civic good to preventing the building from being demolished, but said it was unfair to change the law in the middle of the process" argues VERY strongly for the importance of an up-to-date, complete, and detailed Comprehensive Plan.  I agree with Nate that changing rules after proposals have been prepared according to regulations and procedures adopted previously by the City unjustly treats those citizens seeking to exercising their property rights.  Let this instance of the demolition and parking lot provide us with incentive to address our future fairly and successfully.  We have seen too many lessons arise without our heeding them.  Fortunately, some of these proposals died unrealized.  We cannot count on happenstance, however.  Too many cities have been badly used from lack of foresight.

Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Oct 15, 2020 09:23

If the owner wants to pave paradise and put in a parking lot perhaps it would pass the council with flying colors if it were brick and granite pavers in order to 'not be breaking the norm' and may gain approval by complying with their 'vision for the downtown'. Maybe even a TIF can be had.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Oct 15, 2020 08:51

I have not seen a mention of whether any of our councilors or any one from the city has spoken with the owner of this property about her intentions ?  From my reading most councilors spoke against the need for this ordinance yet voted to approve it.  It would seem the logical thing to do would be to have the code officer, City Manager and members of the Planning board have a conversation with the owner to work this out.  Once again the City goes off half cocked starting in motion a process that will eventually end in failure.  I hope this new batch will be an improvement over our existing lot, but I have my doubts.

Posted by: Carolyn K. May | Oct 15, 2020 08:02

How is the parking lot going to create income for the owner? Are people going to pay to park when there is plenty of free parking in Rockland?

Posted by: George Stephen Pass | Oct 15, 2020 07:30

It may not be a block away from downtown, but there is plenty of parking within walking distance. Why create an ugly landscape with probable traffic issues on a busy corner which  serves as the “entrance” to the downtown and will take away from the charm of the city. It may not be the best way to enact  code changes, but when a issue presents itself that could be detrimental to the overall downtown plan, it should be considered.

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