Planning board approves CMCA

Residents voice support for CMCA in public hearing
By Daniel Dunkle | Apr 01, 2014
Courtesy of: Gartley & Dorsky Engineering & Surveying, Inc. The most recent drawing of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art on Winter Street shows the controversial large wall at the left, the glassed-in lobby and the courtyard area.

Rockland — "You are approved," said Planning Board Chairman Erik Laustsen following a lengthy meeting April 1 at Rockland City Hall.

With those words, the gathered audience of more than 50 community members broke into loud and sustained applause.

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art can move forward with plans for a new $2.5 million, 11,886-square-foot building at 21 Winter St. It was a long journey over several meetings for the team of architects, artists and an engineer to prove to the majority of the planning board the project meets the city's downtown zone and the Tillson Avenue Overlay Zone requirements.

The vote followed a lengthy debate among Planning Board members and a public hearing, in which several residents voiced strong support for the project.

Drawings presented show an outdoor courtyard with small trees, a glassed-in lobby facing the street and a large exhibition building with a saw-tooth roof and north-facing skylights to take advantage of natural daylight.

The plans were presented over the course of several meetings by architects Toshiko Mori and Hye-Young Chung of the firm Toshiko Mori Architect in New York City and Will Gartley of Gartley & Dorsky Engineering & Surveying, Inc.

George Terrien of the Planning Board asked residents speaking in the public hearing to focus on information addressing the specifics of the city ordinances. He said the board could not base its decision on the public's desire and support for CMCA, or any criteria other than specific zoning rules.

"Public opinion has no bearing on our decision," he said.

With that, the Planning Board opened the meeting up for a public hearing.

"I do not like to be lectured by a member of the Planning Board about what I may and may not talk about," former Mayor Brian Harden said during the hearing.

His statement was met with applause.

Harden, and several others who spoke at the hearing, argued CMCA had met all of the standards in the ordinance.

Terrien argued throughout the review that it does not meet the city's zoning standards, mostly due to a large art gallery wall. The wall will be about 62 feet long and up to 26 feet high. The ordinance, which references architectural elements of Rockland's Main Street from prior to 1941, Terrien argued, would require the wall to be broken up by doorways and windows, as store fronts are.

CMCA officials have argued they need a lengthy, uninterrupted wall space for the display of art exhibits in the center.

Architects took the ordinance standards point by point, explaining how the project meets setback requirements and incorporates specific architectural elements that pay homage to the history of Rockland's downtown while giving the museum a contemporary look in keeping with its use as a contemporary art center.

In one example, Mori showed pictures of the piered vertical lines along the walls of the proposed center and piers existing along the facade of present Main Street buildings. She also showed how the saw-tooth roof design for the CMCA would provide an active, articulated roof line in keeping with the varying roof line of the historic downtown.

Mori said in the future they will say, "Camden by the sea, Rockland by the arts."

Proponents of the project noted the ordinances states: "These design standards are intended to require the use of traditional architectural elements, but not to impose any particular architectural style or to foreclose modern design that invokes, but does not mimic, the historic downtown architecture in Rockland."

That argument won out over some of the specific design questions raised during the proceedings.

Terrien asked that members of the Planning Board take straw votes concerning his questions about whether the proposed center's wall meets the ordinance standards.

Laustsen and board member Peta vanVuuren objected.

Laustsen said he disagreed with Terrien's assumptions and logic. Terrien countered that he was disagreeing with the English language in that case because the rules were plainly written.

Terrien argued the project needs to meet all of the criteria of the ordinances.

"Which they do," Laustsen said.

The board voted 3-2 to find the project met the specific requirements of the design elements. Terrien and Kyle Swan cast the opposing votes. William Bodine, vanVuuren and Laustsen voted for it.

The project was approved with the condition that its storm water and sewerage are removed through a system that will be built as part of the city's planned sidewalk improvements on Winter Street. If, for some reason, the city does not complete those improvements, CMCA will have come back to the Planning Board with a revised water management system.

In the final vote to approve the project with that condition, it was 3-1, with Swan opposed and Terrien abstaining.

Construction is tentatively set to begin in mid-summer 2014.

Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at or 594-4401 ext. 122.

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