Rockland weighs downtown parking facilities, demolition moratoriums

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 11:45am

    ROCKLAND – Another month. Another 180 days. More discussion.

    Rockland City Council is taking steps to slow down a partial building demolition being proposed on Main Street after the owner expressed intent to create a parking lot in its stead.

    During the Monday, Nov. 9, City Council meeting, Councilors voted 4-1 (Valli Geiger) to postpone an ordinance in First Reading regarding parking facilities in the Downtown zone. Later in the meeting, a 5-0 vote allowed passage, from First to Second Reading, of a moratorium on demolition permits.

    This is all despite an approval by Planning Board for the desired demolition, as well as tenants already moving out.

    Councilors wish to hear from Krystal Darling, the owner of 279 Main Street, known by locals as Park Street Grille, Midcoast Music Academy, and a few other entities. Is the building beyond repair? Is it falling down? Would Darling be amenable to selling the building if a buyer wanted to move it to another location?

    “I’m never in favor of more paved space,” said Councilor Ben Dorr. “But we may be at a place where that building needs to go. And so, I think we’re doing the property owner a disservice by not sitting down with her as a Council and having a conversation with her before we pass this ordinance.”

    Whereas Ordinance Amendment 32 looks back at the 2012 Comprehensive Planning Commission’s disapproval of parking lots in front of Downtown businesses, as well as a few other details, the demolition moratorium looks ahead to Rockland’s attempts to strengthen its fledgling historic preservation.

    Councilor Nate Davis said: “As a matter of civic good, I would – as I’ve said – rather not have such parking lots downtown.”

    And yet, Davis said he’s thought about this a lot for the past month.

    “I just can’t get over what seems to be the unfairness to the property owner – at least what I perceive to be the unfairness to the property owner,” he said. “This isn’t some wild, unforeseen use that no one ever contemplated. This is a use that the previous Council saw fit to explicitly include as a permitted use.”

    For this reason, Davis started the meeting with the intention to vote down the ordinance amendment. By the end, however, his sentiments eased as he listened to other perspectives.

    Councilor Ed Glaser, too, agreed that a commitment to the owner already occurred, and that new amendments ought to be enforced for any succeeding situations. However, he stated that a Council should not remain idle if a previous council’s ordinances was revealed to be erroneous and in need of changing.

    “There are times when our ordinances fail us,” he said.

    But, as Councilor Valli Geiger continued, some failings are impossible to foresee, and zoning ordinances are complex, leaving councilors in need of reacting “midstream.”

    Dorr proposed another Downtown parking option, away from 279 Main “where people first arrive into town,” he said.

    Dorr said he’s not opposed to a 3-story parking structure somewhere else, such as the Customs House parking lot, “because it would allow us to take back a lot of other parking spaces and use them for parklets and stuff like that.”

    The Customs House, itself, was torn down years ago in order to create parking, and has become an example in the push for historic preservation within the city.

    Council’s ordinance proposing a moratorium on demolition permits comes from a request by the Historic Preservation Committee. Because of the pandemic, the committee hasn’t been able to meet and begin the list of landmarks and historic properties that they are seeking to protect. Other committees in other municipalities have gone through a process of attaining a 160-day moratorium on demolition permits to allow conversation with the building owner. Rockland’s committee intends to follow the same route, according to Geiger.

    “Given the heat we are seeing in the Rockland real estate market at the moment, that as we emerge from COVID, I think we can expect many developers to descend on Rockland and I think we ought to be ready,” she said.

    Glaser stated a fear of giving the City too much authority to slow down a project, though he said that in some cases, a slow down would be appropriate.

    “My fear is that some things that are going to be considered historic – it doesn’t talk about just history in this one. It talks about also architectural oddities in effect,” he said. “The Sear’s building is not an historic building, and it should not apply apply to that building. And my fear is it will be used to try to protect the building that really has no architectural merit as far as I can see.”

    According to City Manager Tom Luttrell, Darling has expressed worry that if the moratorium goes away in 180 days, that just puts her 180 days behind schedule.

    Both ordinances return to Council agenda in December.

     

    Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com

     

     

    CITY OF ROCKLAND, MAINE 

    ORDINANCE AMENDMENT #32 

    (As Amended 10/14/20) IN CITY COUNCIL 

    October 14, 2020 

    ORDINANCE AMENDMENT DT Zone Conditional Uses; Parking Lots 

    THE CITY OF ROCKLAND HEREBY ORDAINS THAT CHAPTER 19, Zoning and Planning, SECTION 19-304(14), Downtown Zone “DT” Regulations, BE AMENDED AS FOLLOWS: 

    Sec. 19-304 Zone Regulations 

    Downtown Zone "DT" Regulations. 
    A. Purpose. 
    The purpose of the Downtown Zone is to preserve and promote a compact, historic commercial district to serve as the retail, office, institutional, financial, governmental, and cultural center of the community. This Zone should include mixed uses that are compatible with existing uses and architectural scale. 

    B. Use Regulations. In a Downtown Zone "DT" no building or land shall be used, and no building shall hereafter be erected or structurally altered, unless otherwise provided for in this Article, 
    (1) Permitted Uses 

    (a) Congregate housing and other residential uses; provided, however, that on parcels abutting Main, Union (except (1) between Oak and Elm Streets and (2) between Lindsey Street and the parcel identified as Tax Map #4-D 14), Limerock, School, Museum, Orient, Oak, Park, Pleasant, Winter, and Commercial Streets, Tillson Avenue, Kimball Lane and Park Drive, new dwelling units are only allowed where at least seventy-five percent (75%) of the street level floor space shall be used primarily for those uses set forth in subparagraphs (1)(b) et seq. and single-family dwellings may only be repaired or rebuilt as provided at Section 19-308; Eff: 12/10/14 

    (b) Business services; (c) Churches; (d) Community and civic buildings and uses; (e) Eating and drinking places; (f) Financial services; (g) Home occupations, all levels of; 

    (h) Human health services; 

    (i) Light assembly () Lodging facilities: hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts; (k) Newspaper and job printing; (1) Office buildings; (m) Parking facilities, commercial; (n) Parks and playgrounds; (0) Personal services; (p) Professional services; (q) Quasi-public uses; 

    (r) Research and development; (s) Retail or wholesale business, any generally recognized; (t) Schools and day care centers; (u) Social Services; (v) Studios; (w) Theaters, museums, art galleries and other places of entertainment and assembly; (x) Tradesmen's or craftsman's offices, shops, and showrooms; (y) Accessory uses; and 

    (2) Conditional Uses The following uses are permissible with the approval of the Planning Board under the provisions of the Site Plan Review Ordinance (Chapter 16, Article II), whether or not the institution of the use requires the construction, renovation, or addition to a structure. The Planning Board shall review and grant, grant with conditions, or deny permission for a conditional use by applying the process and standards for site plan review and shall take into consideration the following factors: the location, character and natural features of the site and adjoining property; fencing, screening; landscaping; topography, natural drainage, and provisions for storm and ground water; traffic hazards, vehicular volume, access, impact on public ways and intersections, on-site circulation and parking; pedestrian access, safety and circulation; signage, and lighting; noise; hours of operations; availability of necessary public services; compliance with applicable requirements of all City Ordinances. The Planning Board Chair, subject to challenge and motion by the Board at a meeting duly noticed, may agree to accept for the Board's review fewer than all the mandatory submission requirements set forth in Chapter 16, Article II, except that a site plan shall be required of every applicant 

    (a) Caregiver Retail Store Eff: 04/08/20. (b) Adult Use Marijuana Store Eff: 04/08/20, ich Parking Facilities, commercial 

    Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in 1 M.R.S.A. $ 302 or any other law, this Ordinance Amendment is retroactive to October 5, 2020 and applies to any and all applications relating to commercial parking facilities in the DT Zone, whether or not such application had become a "pending proceeding" on or after October 5, 2020 as defined in 1 M.R.S.A. $ 302 prior to the enactment of this Ordinance Amendment 

     

    Sponsor: Councilor Geiger Originator: Councilor Geiger 

     

    MEMORANDUM 

    To: 

    Mayor Westkaemper & City Councilors 

    CC: 

    City Manager, Code Enforcement Officers 

    From: 

    Comprehensive Planning Commission 

    Date: 

    November 4, 2020 

    Re: 

    Ordinance Amendment #32 - Chapter 19, Zoning & Planning, SECTION 19 304(14), Downtown Zone “DT” Regulations - DT Zone Conditional Uses; Parking Lots 

    Mayor Westkaemper and Members of City Council, 

    The Comprehensive Planning Commission determined that the vision of the City of Rockland 2002 Comprehensive Plan, As Amended 12/14/2011 and 03/14/2012 supports the development of adequate parking facilities downtown, but does not support parking facilities in front of buildings on principal streets in the Downtown Zone. 

    Chapter 8: Transportation (p 8-26) describes a Parking goal "to improve Downtown parking for shoppers, visitors and employees.” Suggested policies include "Add off street parking in and close to Downtown" and "Assist Downtown businesses with their efforts to encourage employee parking in areas that do not directly compete with customer parking". Strategies to achieve the goal include "Consider purchase of properties in and close to Downtown that become available for conversion to off-street parking, primarily for customers of Downtown businesses" and "Consider allowing additional on-street parking near multi-family dwellings where it could be done safely and without detriment to the neighborhood.” 

    Chapter 14: Summary of Implementation Strategies for Codes/Regulations/Ordinance Strategies (p 14-5) recommends "Amend downtown zoning and off-street parking regulations to maximize the use of the limited commercial land area, including revisions to: Establish maximum setbacks to maintain existing development pattern (building street wall); Discourage parking lots in front of buildings on principal streets like Main Street....". These same strategies are listed for a second time on the page under the strategy to, without limitation, "Evaluate dimensional landscaping requirements to focus on creating usable landscape spaces (i.e. plazas, play areas, pocket parks)...." and a third time in the same chapter, under Parking Strategies (p. 14-9). Also under Parking Strategies (p. 14-8), we found recommendations to "Consider the purchase of properties closed to Downtown businesses for conversion to employee parking and/or consider supporting public transportation that would encourage the use of commuter parking and/or reduce the need for additional customer parking Downtown", "Require that parking lots be located where they least disturb adjacent residential uses, encourage interconnection of parking lots, and allow shared parking (if two or more retail uses, reduce overall parking requirement by 25% or so for shared lots)" and "Discourage parking lots in front of buildings on principal streets like Main Street". 

    Commission members recommend adding a definition for "parking facilities”. 

     

    ORDINANCE AMENDMENT ESTABLISHING A MORATORIUM ON THE DEMOLITION OF BUILDINGS IN THE DOWNTOWN DISTRICT AND TILLSON AVENUE AREA OVERLAY DISTRICT 

    WHEREAS, the City of Rockland's Historic Preservation Ordinance was enacted in November of 2018; and 

    WHEREAS, the Historic Preservation Ordinance gives the Historic Preservation Commission (the “Commission”) the authority to recommend the designation, and therefore protection, of local landmarks and local historic districts; and 

    WHEREAS, the Historic Preservation Ordinance places limitations on the demolition of local landmarks and structures within a local historic district; and 

    WHEREAS, the Commission has not had sufficient time since enactment of the Historic Preservation Ordinance to review all properties which may be eligible for historic designation; and 

    WHEREAS, historic structures located within the Downtown District and Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District contribute to the City's downtown character, beauty and historic charm; and 

    WHEREAS, there is at least one structure within the Downtown District and Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District that may be eligible for historic designation and which is under threat of demolition; and 

    WHEREAS, the City's existing ordinances do not provide an adequate mechanism to protect historic properties from demolition while the Commission reviews properties for recommended designations and are therefore inadequate to prevent serious public harm that could be caused by the demolition of historic buildings; and 

    WHEREAS, the City needs a reasonable amount of time to review and analyze properties in the Downtown District and Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District for eligibility for historic designation; and 

    WHEREAS, during the period of this Moratorium, the Commission will review properties and structures within the Downtown District and Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District and make recommendations to the City Council regarding historic designations; and 

    WHEREAS, during the period of this Moratorium, the City will consider amendments to the Historic Preservation Ordinance in order to protect properties from demolition that may be eligible for historic designation prior to listing; 

    NOW THEREFORE, pursuant to the authority granted to it by 30-A M.R.S.A. $ 4356, be it hereby ordained by the City Council of the City of Rockland as follows: 

    1. APPLICABILITY AND PURPOSE. 
    This moratorium shall apply to all properties within the Downtown District and Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District, as defined in the City's Zoning Ordinance. 

    2. PROHIBITION. 
    During the time this Moratorium Ordinance is in effect, no official, officer, board, body, agency, agent or employee of the City of Rockland shall accept, process or act upon any application for any permit to demolish any building located within the Downtown 

    Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District. No person shall demolish any building within the Downtown District or Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District during the time this Moratorium is in effect. 

    3. EXEMPTION 
    An owner of a building within the Downtown District or Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District may request permission from the City Council to demolish said building and the Council may approve the demolition if it finds that the building is dangerous to life or property due to a condition that predates the effective date of this Moratorium or is the result of fire, accidental catastrophic damage, or natural disaster. 

    4. ENFORCEMENT, VIOLATION AND PENALTIES. 
    This Ordinance shall be enforced by the Code Enforcement Officer of the City of Rockland. Any person who violates Section 2 of this ordinance shall be subject to civil penalties and other remedies as provided in 30-A M.R.S.A. § 4452. 

    5. EFFECTIVE DATE. 
    This Ordinance takes effect immediately upon adoption and shall expire on the 180th day thereafter, unless earlier extended by the City Council. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in 1 M.R.S.A. $ 302 or any other law, this Moratorium is retroactive to November 2, 2020 and applies to any and all applications for demolition within the Downtown District or Tillson Avenue Area Overlay District, whether or not such application had become a "pending proceeding" on or after November 2, 2020 as defined in 1 M.R.S.A. $ 302. 

    6. SEVERABILITY. 
    Should any section or provision of this Ordinance be declared by any court to be invalid, such a decision shall not invalidate any other section or provision. 

    Thank you for your consideration.