ROCKPORT — At a special workshop of the select board, approximately 20 Rockport business owners gathered at the Rockport Opera House Oct. 30, to share thoughts, concerns and suggestions about how to make the town a more business friendly community and “to get to know one another better.”
The concept for this type of business forum was introduced July 23, when non-voting Rockport property owners and taxpayer residents convened, for the first time at a similar type meeting, with the town manager and select board.
The select board and business community have not met since 2012, which was a session held at the Rockport Opera House after the “listening tour” was conducted in the town’s five villages.
At the beginning of the meeting Oct. 30, Select Board Chair Doug Cole said that the driving force behind the meeting was a statement in the town’s 2004 Comprehensive Plan that some business owners perceive Rockport as unfriendly.
Cole also highlighted that the plan indicated that 20 percent of the town’s valuations were for commercial and business use. The 2018 figure was not made available during the meeting by Town Manager, Rick Bates.
Taylor Allen, owner of Rockport Marine for the past 30 years, spoke first during the open forum. He said he felt that the town has been quite helpful, friendly and straightforward, especially when he has interacted with the Planning Board. Joe Ryan, of Adventure Advertising, echoed Allen’s comments and said that Rockport has been supportive of his business, and may be easier to work with than some other towns.
Further comments were shared about the role of the Rockport’s Public Works Department and the Department of Transportation, including a culvert issue at the entrance to Rockport Automotive, a business owned by Jan Campbell.
But, the remainder of the forum, which lasted about one hour and 15 minutes, centered around three topics. They were the expansion of broadband internet throughout the town, workforce housing and the future use of the RES site.
Select Board member Debra Hall led the discussion about the initiative of possibly extending broadband capabilities which she said was still “in the investigative stage.” She shared that some other Maine communities like Calais and Baileyville have become “regional utility districts” without an increase in taxes, by receiving long term municipal loans for implementing broadband.
Hall mentioned that she would like the town to explore this option to see how better internet speed could help all Rockport businesses and also the daily lives of residents, many of whom are working from home.
She said that the next step is to finalize a working group to include a select board member, the town manager and representatives from the business community.
Sam Temple, of Rockport Marine, raised the issue that there is not enough affordable workplace housing in Rockport. He said that he has been hiring “great, young people” but none of them live in Rockport because they need cheaper rental fees.
Cole responded that this issue has come up frequently and it has been acknowledged that less expensive housing options need to be explored.
The forum closed with Cole presenting an update about the RES site, which he said some residents refer to as the “gateway to Rockport.”
Cole shared that a committee has identified four main principles for the best use of the property so there can be a combination of professional rental space and residential units, while still maintaining significant green space.
The four principles include that the development of the property must result in a significant contribution to the town’s tax base, be aesthetically pleasing for Rockport residents and tourists, the green space must be nutured, and the town must be an active partner in the development of shared values.
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