July 16, 2020

Camden Street development argued at Rockland meeting > Zoning plan pits residents against business owners

ROCKLAND — The familiar differences between Camden Street neighbors and business owners were aired once again Thursday, this time at a public hearing on a proposed zoning plan.

Neighbors once proposed Camden Street as a perfect place for a building moratorium. Residents of Pen Bay Acres residential development, fearful of commercial expansion and its effect on their property values, begged the city for protection. The City Council refused to enact a moratorium. But the zoning plan presented Thursday would place some limits on commercial development in the area.

That idea may have satisfied some neighbors, but not everyone.

The city’s lone car dealer, Edward Komolsky, said the plan would stop him from expanding his business on land which has had a commercial use since 1930, before Pen Bay Acres was built. A bank is considering moving to Camden Street, but is hesitant because of new restrictions, he said.

“Rockland has to decide if it is going to remain a business center or become another Camden, Komolsky said. “We are lucky to stay in business, the way things are. And we are being told what to do by people not out there making a living. They don’t know what we are doing. If you own Boardwalk and Park Place, you try and get the most money out of it.” The highest and best use of land between Wal-Mart and Pizza Hut is not residential, but commercial, he said. Those property owners will get a lot more for their land if it can be developed commercially, he said. “You are taking money out of people’s pockets.”

Pen Bay Acres resident Carol Goldsmith noted that Komolsky does not live in Rockland, but in Owls Head “because he can’t find a house to suit him in Rockland.” Commercial strip development favored by businessmen would harm the value of Pen Bay Acres homes, as well as kill downtown Rockland, she said.

Zoning consultant Beth Della Valle of Market Decisions said the midcoast market is not big enough for two business centers. The Camden Street development is “starting to take its toll” on downtown.

Downtown merchant David Ihrig said the plywood on the vacated Sear’s store is a sign of the decay of the area, and “people judge a city by its downtown,” not by its Wal-Mart store. The downtown and its link to exploding development in the harbor is the future of the city, and decisions made by the zoning group “will be vital to future development,” he said. The future will not be on large-scale manufacturing, but in a lot of small development, he said. He called for a “balance” of residential and commercial interests in the Camden Street area.

Chamber of Commerce Director Clayton Fowlie warned the committee that Old County Road will not be considered a bypass by the state Department of Transportation if it is zoned incorrectly. That bypass may go to Route 90 in Rockport, which could cripple the tourism business, Fowlie said. Fowlie implored the committee to save downtown for tourism development.

As the Pen Bay Acres-Camden Street argument continued past the two-hour mark, Alice Knight suggested that the city build a new road from the residential development, away from Camden Street, to settle the argument.

Pen Bay Acres residents are the most vocal opposition to development. “But when they bought those houses in the development, they knew they were living next to Route 1,” Knight said.

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