ROCKLAND – Three opinions were expressed at a Rockland City Council meeting, Monday, Feb. 11, regarding a request to permit living arrangements within Rockland’s Lincoln Street Center for the Arts.
Should officials allow the request, diving into what could become a culturally significant venue to tenants and residents?
Should Councilors accept the idea, viewing the concept plan as a minimal way to test the waters?
Or should they refrain, and think long and hard about the consequences?
The Ellis-Beauregard Foundation provides four studios within the Center, in downtown Rockland, for the artists of its six-month residency programs.
As a way to expand its application pool beyond the commutable area, as well as ease the artists’ financial burdens, the Foundation wants to add a kitchen and bathroom to the studio cluster, in a dormitory-style setting.
Rockland City Council members unanimously approved preliminary passage of Ordinance No. 5: Changes to Former School Buildings, during the Monday meeting. The vote allows the amendment “live/work” to return to the March 11 Council agenda in Second Reading.
Councilor Amelia Magjik spoke of her own living arrangements while attending the Cleveland Institute of Art. Her residence was a former Ford factory where Model T’s and Model A’s were once made. Train tracks still entered the rear of the building, which also had a forge, a foundry, and a two-ton crane.
“It was a magnificent place, and some of the best years of my life,” she said. “It was freezing cold in there at all times, but we all would have lived there if we could, because you want to live where you work.”
Since her time at the Institute, the school location has become a cultural – yet still affordable – hub, according to her.
As for the Lincoln Street request, Magjik said, “I think that this is a great opportunity to support a portion of our population who’d love to be able to afford to live where they are working, and to engage in the community.”
Comprehensive Planning Commission member Calli Black told Council, from the public podium, that she too would love to see the project move forward for the Foundation’s sake, though she stated concerns about “opening a flood gate.”
Black presented concerns of how the rest of the building units might follow suit.
“I don’t think I’d like to see that become 22 apartments,” she said. “I think that maybe we need to take some time to think carefully about the unintended consequences of changing the language in the ordinance, to make sure we are doing exactly the right thing.”
Councilor Valli Geiger wants to give the Foundation an opportunity to try, and to view the limited project as a way of testing the waters.
“I’d like us to think about changing this, for those four rooms, as an experiment,” she said. “It’s happening all over the country. This would be a very small entry, a very safe way for Rockland to test those waters and to see if it’s a good thing for us.”
The people are not the only ones who may prosper, as Councilor Valli Geiger indicated. Geiger referred to the structure itself as “one of those beautiful, historic buildings no longer able to fulfill its original purpose.”
The building was given to the City years ago. The City then turned it over to a private owner, and it continued to deteriorate, according to Geiger.
“It had not, for a very long time, seemed to find its way,” she said.
Until recently, that is. Geiger said that with all units filled, and the Ellis-Beauregard artwork being displayed during art walks, the building is becoming re-invigorated.
To Geiger, this re-invigoration coincides with a need for the City to protect its artists and crafters.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org