Select Board talks short-term rentals, fire station, pests

By Gabriel Blodgett | Feb 11, 2020
Photo by: Gabriel Blodgett The Select Board listens to a presentation from the Maine Forest Service at the Feb. 10 meeting.

Rockport — A crowded Select Board agenda featured discussion on items ranging from a timeline for short-term rental regulations, preliminary plans for the new West Rockport Fire Station, a Maine Forest Service presentation on invasive pests and a speed study for Route 17.

At the Feb. 10 meeting, Town Manager William Post laid out a timeline to get short-term rental regulations, or an ordinance, on the November ballot.

The plan calls for staff members to spend the next two months researching what other municipalities have done in terms of regulations and permitting before presenting their findings to the board.

After receiving input from residents via two public workshops in June and July, staff would make changes before the board ultimately votes on an article for the November election at their Aug. 10 meeting.

At a previous workshop in September 2019, residents were split on whether to maintain the status quo or take steps to limit or regulate short-term rental properties to help address a shortage of affordable long-term rentals in the town.

 

West Rockport Fire Station

The Board also held a discussion with Amanda Roberson Austin, of 2A Architects, regarding preliminary plans for a new West Rockport Fire Station.

The project has been considered for several years, with grading completed on the future site behind the current station, but progress has been slow.

Austin said the building would contain two bays capable of fitting four vehicles, a meeting room and sleeping quarters. Fire Chief Jason Peasley has previously stated that the bays in the current station are not long enough to fit any of the trucks from the Rockport station.

Austin said it was too early in the process for an estimate for the total cost of the building but Post said there is money in the current budget and planned for the next fiscal year to fund the preliminary steps, which include a schematic design and preliminary cost estimating.

Austin was also seeking direction from the board regarding the company's role in the project and what roles a building committee and public input would play in the process.

The board ultimately determined that trying to get a bond on the June 2021 ballot was the most reasonable goal and would allow enough time for residents to voice their opinions and the project to receive the appropriate permitting.

Select Board member Doug Cole posed the question of whether the town needs two fire stations, but Peasley said in order to maintain the town’s fire insurance rating, all properties must be within a five-mile radius of a fire station.

 

Invasive Pests

The board heard a presentation from Colleen Teerling and Jan Santerre of the Maine Forest Service about the Emerald Ash Borer and Browntail Moth.

Teerling, a forest entomologist, said the impact of the caterpillars this summer is likely to be “as bad as last year, maybe worse.”

Post previously sent out a press release on Browntail Moths aiming to inform the public that now until April is the best time to deal with the nests by clipping them off trees and either burning the webs or soaking them in soapy water overnight.

Teerling said that each nest contains 50 to 400 caterpillars.

Santerre, the program director for Project Canopy, said the Ash Borer is spreading quickly in southern Maine and New Hampshire and suggested the town do a tree inventory in the near future to be better prepared for the pest’s eventual arrival.

The Ash Borer, which can kill most varieties of ash trees in less than five years, migrates less than a mile each year by itself but has been spread over greater distances in firewood.

For more information on both pests, people can call 211 or visit maine.gov/dacf

 

Speed Study

In response to a letter from a concerned resident, the board directed Post to request the Maine Department of Transportation to conduct a speed study on the Rockland side of Route 17 near the intersection with Route 90.

Resident Al Stevens wrote the board requesting the speed limit, which currently jumps from 35 mph through the intersection to 55 mph just before the turnoff to Vinal Street, be changed so the increase is from 35 mph to 45 mph and finally to 50 mph after the intersection with Meadow Street.

That would more closely match the increases on the Hope side of the intersection.

In his letter, Stevens cited the recent pedestrian death on the road as well as numerous car crashes as reasons to address the issue.

Post said that MDOT would be happy to come look at the issue but cautioned, “be careful what you wish for,” meaning that once the department conducts a study on a stretch of road, they may change other speed limits, not necessarily in the direction people hope.

 

Library Intersection

Post also mentioned that he has been working with the Police and Public Works Departments as well as the DOT and Phi Builders + Architects regarding plans to begin work on the intersection of Russell Avenue, Union Street, and Central Street.

Post said that in the next three weeks, the fence around the library construction site would be extended out into Russell Avenue. The town has already received permission to remove the island in the intersection to make the intersection more easy to navigate.

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