ROCKLAND – “The last thing I want to do is encourage you to put landscaping somewhere that can’t be maintained to look good, if it’s going to fail,” said Rockland Planning Board member Marcel Valliere, speaking June 2 at a meeting whose agenda included review of a permit application for a Sail Power and Steam Museum on Mechanic Street.
While the Planning Board continued review of the proposed project, they also scheduled a June 30 site visit with project proponents Jim and Meg Sharp and their architect, Amanda Austin, of 2A Architects. The site visit begins at 4:30 p.m.
The board will then convene at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. to continue the review of an application and site plan (PB20-9) submitted by Amanda Austin of 2A Architects, LLC on behalf ofSharp’s Point South, LLC for an expansion to the Sail Power & Steam Museum for a 4,000 square foot boat display building located at 75 Mechanic St., Tax Map #8-A-1.
The board had last discussed the project Dec. 17, 2019. At that point, the Sharps described the project and pursued permit approval to build a 16,679 square foot, $700,000 boathouse to be used as extension of museum space, and as an educational facility for youth sailing programs.
Rockland’s code allows for 16,868 square foot building, according to Board Chair Eric Laustsen, during the June 2 in-person, though socially-distanced, meeting.
Planning Board and landscaping
As Valliere explained to a newcomer to the board, Planning Board approval meetings are the board’s opportunity to support the beautification of the city – to “make Rockland a better place,” he said.
As part of their purview, they must approve elevation schematics, plantings, down-shielded lighting, and overflow parking, and acceptable landscaping of the Museum grounds. To do so, the Board decided to see for themselves the elevations of the property, and to get an idea of how, or even if, to landscape a significant slope of the man-made hill that may one day brace a large boat house.
Engineer Randy Scamfer stated that the recent fill is of excellent quality, made of “good bony gravel.”
Board member Carol Maines questioned the concrete blocks used as a retaining wall at the bottom of the hill, which are keyed together in a V-pattern.
“Do they perform pretty well when there is all that rock and fill behind it?” she asked.
Scamfer assured Maines that the blocks haven’t moved an inch.
“But you’re putting a building on top of everything,” she said.
That proposed building, according to Scamfer, would not be on top of the rubble and gravel fill that bolsters the hill. And, the new building will be set deeper into the ground than the existing building.
“It’s down far enough, and back far enough that the angle of pressure is fine there,” said Scamfer.
The discussion concluded with the clarification that the retaining wall was built to support the soil. It’s role is not to support a building.
No support coming from neighbors
As the Board adheres to city code considerations, Mechanic Street residents attending the meeting re-addressed general concerns for the land and the finances at stake. Though these neighbors did not attend the meeting, their opinions were entered into the public record for the June 2 meeting based on the letters they sent to the Planning Board.
One major sticking point arising from the neighbors is the question of who owns what on the proposed site.
“Sharp's Point South LLC, is a FOR PROFIT organization located at 75 Mechanic Street,” wrote Lisa Ignaszak, in a June 2 letter. “Sail, Power & Steam Museum is a NON-PROFIT organization located at 73 Mechanic Street and 18 Snow Street. The names of these two entities are used interchangeably throughout the documentation of this project, as if it doesn't matter. It does matter because the laws governing the Sail, Power & Steam Museum, which allow it to operate as a NON-PROFIT, are different from the laws governing FOR-PROFIT organizations.”
That classification of the building might help determine whether SPSM Board members are legally, and personally, responsible for bills in the future, a concern that has been informally articulated. Though directors, officers, board members, and other such volunteers can be legally immune from civil cases, the IRS is a different matter.
A nonprofit's unpaid taxes can raise the biggest risk in terms of board members' liability. A failing nonprofit may find itself unable to pay taxes, and then close its doors. After that, the IRS may turn to the board of directors for payment, and the board members may discover too late that their insurance doesn't cover unpaid taxes.
Nonprofits that have employees still have to pay payroll taxes. And the IRS takes payroll tax liabilities pretty seriously. As with any employer, if the charity doesn't pay, the IRS has the ability to go after the individual officers, directors or check signers who could have done something about it. So don’t sign checks and expect to skate if the IRS comes along. You can face personal liability for employment taxes. Even the U.S. Supreme Court may turn a deaf ear, letting stand a whopping $11 million in IRS penalties in Davis v. United States.
Another resident questioned maintenance of the existing museum.
In February, wrote Phyllis Merriam, the Rockland Fire Dept. responded twice in one day after pipes froze and water was spilling over electric lines and flooding the Children’s Museum. According to Merriam, this occurred at Sharp’s Point South due to lack of preventative maintenance of the sprinkler system.
“Can neighbors and abutters be assured this problem will be resolved before new construction is begun?” she wrote. “Our neighborhood has already experienced one devastating fire in our dense housing.”
Also of concern is the further blocking of a harbor view that would affect neighbors as well as the visitors seeking enjoyment through views of the water, the park, and Owl’s Head from the Harbor Trail, neighbors said.
Adding another museum on the working waterfront, wrote Katherine Best, would not provide good paying jobs or affordable housing. It would devalue her house, she said.
“More development would not be an improvement,” wrote Ella Godt and Drew Silver. “Nothing can be done about existing buildings that already block the bay, but what view remains can be preserved. We don’t need to build a theme park on Mechanic Street; the Gem already looks like the centerpiece of a miniature golf course.”
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