UPDATED: Rockland councilor defends ad hoc committee as council seeks partial street closure revisions

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 6:00pm

    ROCKLAND (4/13/2021) – “I would like to take a moment to briefly point out the irony that we’re now passing an order to close a portion of Winter Street,” said Councilor Ben Dorr, “but I’m stoked to go to this party for CMCA, and I’m glad that they are a member of our Downtown community.

    On April 12, Rockland City Council approved a closure of Winter Street for June 27, when Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) holds an outdoor party. The vote comes days after CMCA went before Council in protest of an ad hoc recommendation to close a portion of the street for the entire 2021 summer season. Rockland’s 22-member 2021 summer ad hoc traffic study committee has now disbanded.

    Rockland Main Street, Inc’s David Gogel returned to the April 12 City Council meeting, held via Zoom, to formally introduce the revised suggestions that are intended for the entire summer, and not just the June 27 party being planned in celebration of CMCA’s current location’s fifth anniversary.

    At the request of CMCA, Winter Street will remain open to two lanes during the summer. Instead of picnic tables centered in the street, like last summer, café-style sidewalk tables are encouraged, along with promotion of the courtyard as a public pocket park.

    “The solutions that they are going to have for this party – about how to get people there, how to let them park, how to make sure people know where it is – can probably inform some of the solutions that can hopefully be reached in terms of what to do with Winter Street for the rest of the summer,” said Councilor Sarah Austin. “I applaud Dave Gogel, and the committee, and the City of Rockland for continuing the work on that portion. Clearly there’s ideas out there. We just have to come together on what the best option is.”

    Following the April 7 City Council agenda-setting meeting, Gogel met with CMCA stakeholders to devise a “comprehensive and creative solution that works for all parties,” he said.

    Along with café-style seating, the plan allows for increased use of the street – drop off and pickup, walking and biking – curated street art and pop-up events. Clear and increased signage, and integrated use of the courtyard.

    Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com

    ROCKLAND – Some tense moments passed during a meeting of Rockland City Council, Wednesday, April 7, as Councilors Louise MacLellan-Ruf and Sarah Austin expressed opposing views on how to proceed with an ad hoc downtown traffic committee decision.

    At stake is a potential pocket park proposed for Winter Street – a small side road off of Downtown Main Street. Council allowed a partial closure of the street in 2020 at the request of Atlantic Baking Company, which sits at the corner of Main and Winter streets.

    After several weeks of meetings, an ad hoc committee of 22 Rockland residents and entrepreneurs announced approval during Wednesday’s meeting for a repeat closure for the summer of 2021; they were met with opposition from the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), which resides midway down Winter Street.

    At Councilor Austin’s request of reopening the committee’s final decision and asking that the committee return to meetings and incorporate the art museum’s desires, Councilor MacLellan-Ruf began to steam.

    “Every one, all 22 members of that group, understood, and understands, that this plan can be revised. But their work, for what they were asked and charged to do, is – in my estimation – finished tonight,” she said. “If Mayor Glaser wants to open this up again, for the discussion before the committee, the committee is prepared to -- should that happen. The committee is in no way, and has in no way, said no to anything that’s been requested from anybody.”

    According to MacLellan-Ruf, CMCA had been informed early on of the ad hoc meetings regarding the potential Winter Street closure. There was even an email thread with a representative of the museum, she said. Yet, as the committee came to the Wednesday Council meeting (which had been postponed from Monday due to the region-wide internet power outage) ready to present its approval, CMCA staff and supporters showed up to the same Zoom meeting ready to protest.

    CMCA is requesting that the traffic pattern remain open, treatment equal to that of the nearby Farnsworth Museum, and still have a pocket park. If there needs to be any sort of closure, according to CMCA’s Tim Peterson, only close one lane.

    The museum hosts hundreds of area youth. The younger ones need to be dropped off and picked up directly outside of the building, but last summer’s street closure caused confusion among parents. Tourists and artists come to the area specifically to visit the museum, according to Peterson. To hamper parking is a bad idea, he said.

    The picnic tables weren’t used last summer, said Peterson. And, suggested Marty Jones, why not have small sidewalk tables on the sides of the streets, or put them on Main Street in front of Atlantic Baking Company?

    The bakery’s delivery trucks park on Winter Street, often for upwards of half an hour, blocking the view of CMCA and its signature statue; and when the trucks leave, they have trouble getting out, CMCA said.

    According to Jones, an economic study named CMCA as a $1.9 million business – a business that received the Governor’s award in 2018. As one of two museums in Rockland, according to Jones, the organizations are important, making access and visibility important, as well.

    On June 27, CMCA will celebrate its fifth anniversary with outdoor events in its courtyard – a courtyard that the gallery already views as a public-accessible pocket park.

    MacLellan-Ruf’s concern is with the treatment of the volunteers on the ad hoc committee.

    “I gave my word to this committee that they put a plan through, and that I was not going to allow anyone, or any individual, or any corporation or business, to ‘boom’ as I said to them – drop a bomb in the middle of all of the work that they’ve done,” she said. “That would be my request, that we accept a plan that the committee has worked forward to, and then we can do a ‘by-the-way CMCA has weighed in. They feel that they need more opportunities to express what they would like, or not like,’ and we bring those contingents together and we discuss that. But not blow up the plan that this volunteer committee has worked so rigorously, and so faithfully, to put forward.”

    By “blow up,” MacLellan-Ruf clarified to mean that the committee had completed the project it was assigned.

    “It does blow up the committee, and it does blow up the volunteers, and it interferes with the process, when anyone comes in at the nth hour,” she said. “That is reality.”

    Austin asked how it would “blow up the plan” to have the committee meet for further conversation. According to Austin, when creating the group, Council stated the disclaimer that the group needed to be available through the summer should amendments be necessary.

    Mayor Ed Glaser reasoned that Austin and MacLellan-Ruf were saying the same thing, that Council accepts the plan, but more work and clarification is needed, requiring someone – the committee, or Rockland Main Street Inc. – to take on the extra concerns.

    “It doesn’t mean that the plan is being blown up,” said Glaser. “It just means we want a little bit more help with these other issues.”

    Rockland City Council will meet again Monday, April 12, at 6 p.m., via Zoom.