ROCKPORT — The Rockport Select Board has turned its attention to the future of the 4.9 acre site which was home to the former Rockport Elementary School on West Street, at the corner of a busy intersection with routes 1 and 90. It is focal point for the community and more than just visual: The old playing field, used predominantly for T-ball and pickup games, figures in local sentiment. But there is also a parallel desire to make the empty parcel a tax revenue producer for the town.
On Nov. 14, at 1 p.m., a working group is meeting to continue the discussion about RES, at the Rockport Town Office. That working group has been unofficially convened by the Select Board, but the intentions of the group have been articulated in a vision outline and within the guidelines of four principles:
- “Development of this property must result in a significant contribution to Rockport’s tax base.
- “The project should be aesthetically pleasing and attractive as it welcomes residents and tourists alike to the central portion of our town, particularly if they are arriving via the important Route 90 corridor.
- “’Green space’ must be maintained, incorporated, and nurtured in the project so that it is accessible for all to enjoy.
- “The town must be an active partner in the development of the property so that decisions are not simply ones of ‘dollars and cents,’ but that they represent the shared values of all town citizens and their visions for it.”
The working group consists of Select Board members Deb Hall and Doug Cole, Rockport Town Manager Rick Bates, Planning and Code Enforcement Office Administrative Assistant Hannah Sisk, Rockport’s planning consultant Bill Napauer, Bettina Doulton and John Morris.
Once a school, then empty lot
The former Rockport Elementary School, K-4, was situated on the 4.9 acres on West Street before relocating shifting grades to its newer facility further out on West Street (Route 90). By 2010, all grades had vacated the RES building and it was demolished, and land ownership reverted back to town purview.
According to the mission statement, as written by Cole, “Many citizens of Rockport recognize the large piece of real estate at the corner of Commercial St. and Rt. 90 as the ‘Gateway to Our Community.’ Over the years, the previous RES site has been extensively studied by various citizen groups and town committees.
In 2010, the town considered selling the property to a private boat business venture, as well as to Maine Media Workshops. The town also entertained creative visions for the lot. Then, community interest turned to sighting a new town library at the RES site.
None of the ideas under discussion since 2010 have panned out, leaving the question of what to do with RES until this year, when the new Select Board agreed to take up the matter once again.
“To date many of the ideas circulating around this site support the idea that the highest and best use of the property is a mixed-use combination of professional/retail space and residential units, while maintaining significant green space,” wrote Cole, in the current RES work outline. “As stated, many view the parcel as a ‘gateway’ to Rockport, and therefore an importance is being placed on the site as a gathering space, encouraging and enhancing the community in town.
He said the working group is to “identify an organization with the vision, financial depth and experience to partner with the town in bringing this vision to reality.”
The group is inviting suggestions and ideas to be submitted to the town manager for consideration.
“Once we identify an organization that might help us to move this effort along, we plan to present options for the town’s residents and businesses to review and discuss,” said Cole.
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