Rockland deals with art/signs, apartment staircases, lot sizes

By Stephen Betts | Nov 14, 2017
Photo by: Stephen Betts Richard Rockwell shows off a graphic of the proposed  "East" sign he wants to erect on one of his downtown commercial buildings.

Rockland — Rockland city councilors had an overflowing plate before them Monday night, Nov. 13, and gave final approval to changes to sign regulations to allow a Main Street artwork to be erected, loosened regulations on staircases for apartment buildings and relaxed lot-size regulations so that an animal hospital can expand.

The City Council also gave unanimous approval to reducing the assessment on Ocean State Job Lot's property on Camden Street.

The council voted 4-1 to waive the requirement that existing stairs strictly comply with life safety codes.

City Manager Tom Luttrell assured councilors that the fire department would not give its approval to any staircases that were unsafe. The city manager said all this ordinance change does is to allow the fire department not to pull out a tape measure and require a staircase to be replaced if it is only a quarter-inch off from life safety codes.

Councilor Valli Geiger said a historic mahogany staircase should not be replaced because the risers or runners are an inch off from standards. She said these standards change regularly and the city needs to weigh the benefits of encouraging housing versus the demand for housing.

Councilor Amelia Magjik voted against the change, not because she believes it will lessen safety, but because of an issue raised by Cheryl Michaelsen, a co-owner of both the Berry Manor Inn and the adjacent former Talbot Home.

Michaelsen spoke at the beginning of Monday night's meeting to contend that it was unfair for the city to waive the life safety code requirements for staircases for apartment buildings while bed-and-breakfast establishments must strictly adhere to all such regulations.

She asked whether the city was putting the profits of apartment owners over the safety of tenants, as well as the safety of emergency personnel who would respond to a fire or medical emergency.

Artwork or signs

The City Council also gave final approval on a 4-1 vote to an ordinance amendment to the city's sign ordinance that exempts artwork from sign regulations.

The issue arose through the request of Richard Rockwell, who owns several downtown commercial buildings and wants to erect a piece of art that spells out "East."

Rockwell spoke to councilors at their Nov. 6 meeting and said the East sign does not advertise anything. His daughter, Jennifer Rockwell, reiterated that point in Nov. 6 comments to councilors.

She said Rockland is known for its art and vibrancy and this sign will complement that image.

"This will add light, commerce and energy to the north end of Main Street," she said.

Councilor Adam Ackor said at the Nov. 13 meeting he had a concern about unintended consequences of exempting art from signage law. The issue had also been raised the prior week as to what defines art versus signage.

Old County Road change

The council also gave final approval to an amendment to the zoning regulations on Old County Road to allow for more building coverage to the rural residential 1 zone that runs along the east side of Old County Road.

In September, Rockland Animal Hospital owner Phil Caron said he wanted to make an addition to the building and make renovations, but the current zoning regulations for the rural residential zone limit the amount of development on a lot.

Code Enforcement Officer John Root suggested, and councilors expressed support for, amending the rural residential regulations to allow for a greater percentage of building coverage for lots on the east side of the road. Root had said the current limitation is meant for the west side of Old County, where there are more sensitive natural resources -- such as Meadow Brook -- to protect.

The city's Comprehensive Planning Commission concluded in an Oct. 25 memo to the council that the zone change was not in line with the comprehensive plan approved in 2002 or updates in 2011 and 2012.

Councilors praised the Comprehensive Planning Commission for its work, but said there are times when the council must take action that appears to contradict its recommendations.

The commission has recommended that the city review all residential zones for lot coverage.

Councilor Ed Glaser said the city must continue running while such reviews are undertaken.

Ocean State tax break

The city council voted unanimously to approve an agreement with Ocean State Job Lot to reduce the assessment on its property. The agreement ends a legal battle with the New England retail company.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 15, 2017 14:34

Here we go, right into the pot of boiling lava. Making changes, approving wrong, and giving away the baby and the water. Way to go new council is headed for a real interesting journey. Give it away.

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