Hotel developer Lyman weathers storm of criticism before planning board

By Larry Di Giovanni | May 20, 2014
Photo by: Larry Di Giovanni Rockland resident Joan Wright speaks to the Planning Board May 20 in opposition to the overall size of Cabot Lyman's proposed five-story hotel, and also expressed traffic and valet parking concerns.

Rockland — Developer Cabot Lyman and his company, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding, faced a gantlet of public comment criticism during the May 20 Planning Board meeting at Rockland City Hall.

With the forthcoming approval of Lyman's five-story, $2.9 million hotel for 250 Main St. at stake, board Chairman Erik Laustsen opened the meeting by noting that the audience was “standing room only.” The proposed 26-room hotel is located at the corner of Pleasant and Main streets and filed under the name ADZ Properties.


When the meeting concluded shortly after 9 p.m., the Planning Board took no action regarding the hotel site plan. Instead, they will reconvene June 10 after members requested that Lyman and his architects develop a traffic study that addresses overall concerns including the proposed valet drop off/pick up area along Main Street. Lyman was also asked to adjust the design of the hotel's north-facing wall, which is gray and some referred to as being drab.


A total of 24 people spoke during the public hearing, most in opposition to the 16,800 square-foot hotel project.


Before the public hearing, Lyman spoke briefly before turning the hotel presentation over to his architects from Scattergood Design, T. Scott Teas and Pamela Hawkes. Noting that his plans for a similar but smaller project fell through in 2010, he said that was due to a project that was “not economically viable for the times.”


“We really want to be part of the reinvention of Rockland,” Lyman said, adding that it's “really amazing what has happened here with the restaurants and the harbor.” With more than 100,000 people attending the city's main festivals, “Rockland can use some extra beds” from a hotel that is “environmentally friendly,” Lyman offered.


When the public hearing finally started at 6:48 p.m., Laustsen asked speakers to direct comments to him. The first public speaker, City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson, said an ordinance amendment never voted on in 2010 would have limited Lyman's project to 50 feet. It should be considered now, she added, receiving a round of applause.


The hotel as proposed is 57 feet high in its tallest occupied portion, and just over 72 feet high at its tallest point for the elevator override and solar panels.


“It's just too high,” said the evening's second speaker, Joan Wright. Reading a letter from fellow resident Amy Files, Wright said, “This project is unprecedented in its size and construction.”


Criticism from vocal residents from the south side impacted by the hotel also focused on traffic flow and parking concerns.


The Planning Board is yet to take up approval of a 30-space, off-site parking lot between Park and Pleasant streets, through a lease with the Maine Department of Transportation. It is proposed that entry to the parking lot will come from Union Street through the Midcoast Health Center, with a second access route provided through 70 Park St. near Eastern Tire.


Proposed valet parking will need the city to approve a 9-by-20-foot long drop-off area along the edge of Main Street so that valets can take hotel guests' cars to the parking lot. City Attorney Kevin Beal said the drop-off area will require changing its use to short-term parking. There are currently public parking spaces in the immediate area along Main Street next to Rock City Coffee Roasters.


Continuing to read from Files' letter, Wright said the proposed hotel at Main and Pleasant streets is in a busy intersection with two crosswalks nearby. “Please take one minute to imagine what would happen” if 10 cars pulled into the valet parking area at the same time, Wright said.


Teas, addressing valet parking build-up concerns expressed by Laustsen, said the two to three vehicles arriving at the same time is likely. But he added that eight to 10 cars at the same time is not. The project needs at least two restricted parking spaces, he said.


Before the hearing, Jesse Henry of Rockland, representing the Migis Hotel Group, said that a well-trained valet staff “that can react” should be able to handle hotel arrivals. “I don't think it's a huge issue,” he said. Planning Board member William Bodine said his general belief has always been that having valet parking means “you can pull off the main thoroughfare.”


Planning Board member Kyle Swan expressed concern that the hotel may take parking space from Rock City Coffee Roasters at 252 Main St.


Susanne Ward, owner of Rock City Coffee Roasters, said during the hearing, “I certainly think that (the hotel project) overwhelms my building, which is very sad.”


Ward also said that in the past, the city almost shut her down due to complaints about coffee roasting odors. She adjusted her roastings stack accordingly. She believes that her stack will be comparable to about the fourth floor of the proposed hotel and does not want the city to try and shut her down again due to hotel complaints. Ward employs 25 workers.


Resident Debby Atwell said she was presenting the Planning Board with 35 signed petitions. Leaving a large hole of an abandoned project for four years as Lyman did, and then proposing a bloated project, does not send the right message, she said.


“That corner (Pleasant and Main) is the gateway to the south end,” said Orange Street resident Ben Levine. “It's not an urban area” but a residential one, he added.


The newest site plan from Scattergood Architects shows that terra cotta rainscreen is now "the dominant feature of the 250 Main Street facade,” with a height of four stories on Main Street and stepping back to three stories for the Pleasant Street facade “in response to the adjacent single-family houses.” The fifth and highest floor is 57 feet high, which is “eight feet lower than permitted,” Teas said in a memo to the city.


Laustsen expressed concern that the north side of the hotel still has an appearance “that has a very blank kind of wall.”


"We'll continue to find a good solution,” Teas said. Bodine added that a drab gray on the north side of the building says “Hello, I'm a mass (building) when you come in to Rockland.”


Well before the Planning Board meeting, residents from the south side, including a portion of Pleasant Street near the proposed hotel, made their views known through letters sent to the city.


In a May 5 “press release” from residents, Debby Atwell wrote that she and her neighbors believe “the protective intention of the downtown zoning ordinance is being defied to usher in an oversized, towering hotel that bears no resemblance or relationship to the historical feel of the mixed use and residential neighborhood.” She also expressed that a 26-room hotel with no on-site parking at such a busy intersection should be subject to “a traffic study from all three directions, including the impact of valet parking, service trucks and pavers.”


Resident George Terrien, who wrote a letter received by the city May 12, asked if any residents would want to live “in the shadow” of such a large building. “Perhaps our existing system of regulating space and bulk, making only general statements of intent, and giving citizen boards leeway to commingle aesthetic and civic judgment, is not the best way to get the future we will be happy to inhabit,” Terrien wrote. Other effective approaches to addressing building form and civic behavior exist. Let's at least learn about them.”


Barbara Michaud, a Pleasant Street homeowner, said she wants business development for Rockland, but not in her neighborhood. A recent retiree, she said her house is paid for. “But now we want to sell because we are losing the neighborhood,” she wrote in her hand-written letter received by the city May 14.


Not all of the letters were negative. Letters read by Chairman Laustsen just before the meeting, and not made available before press time, included one from from Sandra Dillon, who owns a bed and breakfast at 16 Pleasant Street. She asked for a “compromise” that would reduce the building height by one story.


A letter from Dan Bookham of Limerock Street commended Lyman for proposing “an environmentally responsible example” of a hotel that encourages “responsible density.”

Hotel developer Cabot Lyman, foreground, center, finished his brief presentation May 20 before the Rockland Planning Board, before turning the bulk of the hotel project details over to his main architect, T. Scott Teas, far right. (Photo by: Larry Di Giovanni)
Comments (17)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 22, 2014 08:48

Take a ride over State Street and see the vehicles parked there all day long. I was informed that the drivers work at a business on So Main Street. I don't know about anyone else , but living in a residential neighborhood I don't want somebody else's vehicle in front of my property all day. I grew up on State Street when it was used for a parking area. Maybe Lyman should put a parking garage on that spot.

Posted by: Priscilla Ann Shepherd | May 22, 2014 08:14

Well said James York.

Posted by: Bill Packard | May 21, 2014 21:32

I think a fish processing plant or two would be just fine.  Let's go back to the old days. They need to be on the water because that's where the boats come in.  Trucks going through neighborhoods would be problematic. Something like that will sail through the permit process, create jobs and solve everything.

Posted by: Denise Rene' Ames | May 21, 2014 20:15

I completely agree with James York's comments about this issue.


Posted by: David E Myslabodski | May 21, 2014 17:46

Re: The Character of Rockland's People.


It is not funny when some people suffer from a bad case of Alzheimer's regarding Rockland's recent past. We used to be a stinking [I say this with pride!] fishing town, but now all of a sudden we are a "hip artsy community."


And after 25 years of  "ants work" done by many people, the big developers start circling our town ready for a kill.

You want to make money and provide DECENT year-round jobs? Go to the Industrial Park and build a processing plant.


Your average Rocklander is getting tired of hearing about "Jobs and Taxes" when you mean our low-paying jobs and your tax brakes . . .


I would recommend reading MCEDD Mobilize Midcoast Maine White Paper

Posted by: James York | May 21, 2014 16:56

Excluding non-profits, when was the last time a developer wanted to commit nearly $3 million to a downtown development?  With our city strapped for funds and as it struggles to be affordable for working people we need new development to calm the pain of our increasing tax bills. When we talk about history and character of a community we should be talking about more than just it height and make-up of its buildings; rather we should be talking about the character of its people and whether or not they can afford to stay in their homes and neighborhoods.

Posted by: Lynne A Barnard | May 21, 2014 16:23

I hiked all the way from Main Street to the meeting last night.  I am 71 years old.  I was so touched and impressed by the turn out (standing room only) and by what is clearly a grass-roots effort to save a neighborhood and life style.  I am an architect in who retired in 2007 (from a major practice) to live in Maine.  I found nothing redeeming about this project as it was presented at the Planning Board meeting last night.  No thought has been given to scale, no "due diligence," no community meetings beyond those mandated by "hearings" with the Planning Board.  The  architect in Mr. Lyman's employ trotted out all of the clichés that you'd expect from any architect making a presentation.  I've made these same presentations myself..."this new design references Rockland's history with granite" therefore we are promoting a concrete wall with incised scrolls that reference this history.  Oh!!!  What a Crock!!!  I applaud the Planning Board for acknowledging and questioning many of these bogus claims (including the lone valet parker trotting up and down Pleasant Street. 24/7 ).  Please, let's keep up the pressure to slow this process down and to consider the consequences before it becomes a blue print for more developer abuse.  I'll be at the next hearing... 

Posted by: Richard Randall | May 21, 2014 16:11

Just another case of the NIMBY's telling other people what they can do with property they own.

Posted by: Amy Files | May 21, 2014 15:07

Thinking that any new business is "good business." Is extremely short-sighted. Rockland needs smart development that is good for business and residents alike. Focusing all of our large developments on seasonal affluent tourism points us in the direction of the next Bar Harbor = it encourages seasonal-based tourist businesses which won't stay open year round on Main St -- bad for residents and bad for the businesses that want to stay open year round.

The handful of jobs that the hotels bring will be relatively low-paid service industry jobs. Rockland can do better.

Right now the Pleasant Street neighborhood is actively attracting young families and new residents -- residents who are bringing in their small entrepreneurial businesses that are tapped into larger city markets. Encouraging this instead of hurting the very neighborhoods that are attracting these same residents should be our focus.

Let's not forget -- the Downtown Zone itself says that development should be "compatible with existing scale." That is all that residents are asking for -- a smaller building that can co-exist with our residential neighborhood.

The Planning Board is choosing to ignore this part of the Downtown Zone in order to cater to private development.

Posted by: Ronald Huber | May 21, 2014 10:12

After last night's planning board meeting, it has become clear  the project's toast. Not a snowball's chance in Hades that MDOT will okay this addition to an already complicated intersection.  Even under this administration..

Thank you all who spoke so eloquently or plainly in defense of your neighborhoods. The finest kind of local democracy, and I hope Mr. Lyman was listening.

Posted by: Gayle Murphy | May 21, 2014 09:14

Last time I checked Susan, this hotel DOES overlook Rockland harbor!

Posted by: Jim Gamage | May 21, 2014 09:12

Susan, it's really not up to you to decide.  It's the investors and their money who will decide.  Capitalism and the free market.  They are risking their own money.  Look on the bright side, if it fails your not a penny.  Optimism, it's contagious.  Have a super day!

Posted by: Susan P Reitman | May 21, 2014 09:03

Don't any of you agree that the hotel proposed overlooking Rockland Harbor would be a much better choice for a hotel than the one being proposed on Main and Pleasant streets?

Posted by: michael b benner | May 21, 2014 08:59

A 100 foot tall art gallery would pass in a second. Come build your hotel in thomaston we will take it. Way too many "not in my backyard" citizens in rockland.

Posted by: Priscilla Ann Shepherd | May 21, 2014 08:39

I agree with you both.  In order for this community/city to grow we need more development.  We have prime ocean views for projects such as this one and I am all for growth.  Our citizens of this community continuously gripe about the high taxes and we have a project such as this that would be a tax payer and take some of the burden off of our personal property taxes.  We are the "City" of Rockland but want to be considered a small coastal town but we are city that runs like small town but spends like a big city and the income brackets are not available to spend like a city.   We need jobs and opportunities for our young people if we want them to stay.

Posted by: william c winchenbach | May 21, 2014 08:11

City has always been pro nothing, look what they did to the Cruise Ships.

Posted by: Frank Brown | May 21, 2014 02:41

Continue to stifle the economy in our community and these people will have far fewer businesses to complain about.

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