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Foundation plans art center for artist housing, community

By Stephen Betts | Oct 10, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts Knowlton Street in Rockland.

Rockland — A foundation that has supported the arts in Rockland for several years is asking for a contract zone that would allow the organization to build a complex to serve artists and the community.

The Ellis-Beauregard Foundation filed an application Sept. 28 with Rockland for a contract zone for Knowlton Street, where the organization already has its offices located in a large house.

The foundation purchased two homes on Knowlton Street, across from its offices Sept. 18.

Foundation Executive Director Donna McNeil said no decisions have been made, but the concept is to tear down the two houses and construct a building that would provide spaces for artists to live and work. In addition, the tentative plan is for the complex to have a space for exhibits, lectures and small performances.

Currently, the organization leases space in the Lincoln Street Center for artists to live and work. She said an attempt was made to purchase the Lincoln Street Center, but an agreement could not be reached with its owners.

The neighbors were contacted and are in support of the proposal, she said.

The proposed contract zone would go before the Rockland Planning Board Dec. 1. The city's process for contract zones is for the proposal to before the Planning Board, which then will issue a recommendation to the City Council. The Council will then consider whether to adopt an ordinance to create the contract zone.

The new zone is needed, because while residences and in-home work spaces are allowed, a performance center is not allowed under the residential B regulations.

McNeil said the performances would end no later than 10 p.m. Parking would not be allowed on Knowlton Street and visitors could either park at the nearby Penobscot School parking lot on Gay Street, or the parking area at the MacDougal Park on Broadway. She said these would be small performances, such as a chamber music performance or the screening of an independent film.

McNeil said while the organization is a non-profit, they will make payments in lieu of taxes.

She pointed out the importance of the creative economy to the community.

The earliest the contract zone could be approved would likely be February or March.

If the change is approved, the Foundation would need to come back before the Planning Board for the site plan review.

McNeil said the organization was looking for a place to buy or build, and after the Lincoln Street Center acquisition did not succeed, she noticed a sale by owner sign on a house across the street from the offices.

She said the property alone was not large enough, and decided to speak to the owner of the adjacent home and asked if he would be interested in selling. He said he would if he could find another house with a two-car garage.

The Foundation found a house for sale on Old County Road, and showed it to him and he said it was an ideal place. On Sept. 18, the Foundation purchased the two homes on Knowlton and the one on Old County Road, then sold the Old County Road place to him.

In March 2019, the City Council gave unanimous final approval to amend a zoning law that allowed artists to live at the Lincoln Street Center. The change specifically allowed combined living and work spaces related to educational and cultural purposes.

The foundation provides resources and financial support to artists, engages with community, and sustains the legacy of its founders — the late artists John David Ellis and Joan Marie Beauregard.

The couple moved to Maine full-time in 1979 and eventually built their house and studios in Rockland. Beauregard, who was the mother of Rockland attorney Joseph Steinberger, died in 2009. Her husband, Ellis, died in 2015.

Their house is now the foundation headquarters in Rockland.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Oct 12, 2020 09:10

I'm confused (not unusual) this foundation has supported improvements to the Lincoln st. Center to do the same as they are proposing here.  I have seen the work they paid for on Lincoln st and it is beautiful.  The current building was well designed as a private residence and I believe is still in good shape.  Would seem a shame to tear it down when that money could be used to complete the project they have already begun in one of Rockland's historic buildings already dedicated to the same purpose.  Money does what money wants despite what common sense dictates.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Oct 10, 2020 13:19

I am sure, Steve, that those payments made will no wear near equal the property tax bill.  I am not against art.  I feel that we have enough non profits in this city.

Posted by: Connie Beal | Oct 10, 2020 11:47

Yet another spot zone change. Zoning is put in place to keep residential neighborhoods residential. Their voluntary payment of taxes is admirable but still voluntary.

Posted by: Stephen Betts | Oct 10, 2020 11:00

Valerie, As the article states the Foundation will make payments in lieu of taxes. This is voluntary on the organization's part.

Posted by: Paul Monska | Oct 10, 2020 10:10

Well wishes to Director O’Neil who has worked diligently and laid the groundwork to make this happen. The Rockland community will benefit culturally and further define its identity as a Mid Coast Maine arts destination city.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Oct 10, 2020 09:50

YEAH!  Add another non profit non tax paying building (s).    Just what us tax payers want!  NOT!

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