A proposal to build a new restaurant on Rockland's waterfront may result in city officials using eminent domain to preserve a frequently used road, seen on the left.

ROCKLAND, Maine ― City officials are preparing to take a private waterfront roadway by eminent domain as a property owner has proposed building a 2,000-square-foot restaurant that would obstruct the frequently used road.

While the road, Police Plaza, has been used for years as one of two roadways that lead to Rockland’s prominent waterfront park, Harbor Park, the city does not own the road, or even have an easement for the road to be used, according to City Manager Tom Luttrell.

“It’s been a roadway for who knows how long,” Luttrell said. “But come to find out we don’t have an easement or anything down there for the roadway.”

A portion of the roadway is part of a 0.25-acre lot owned by the Waterfront Group, whose principal owners are Crystal Darling and John Conte. The lot includes a building formerly home to the well-known restaurant, Conte’s, as well as the pier which is home to The Pearl restaurant.

Use of the roadway as a public way had not been questioned until about two months ago when Darling proposed that the former Conte’s restaurant be demolished and a new restaurant be built on the property. But to move the building out of the flood zone, the new restaurant would have to be built in the middle of the private roadway.

Luttrell said he has tried to reach an agreement with Darling that would allow the restaurant to be built without blocking the roadway, but no agreement has been reached.

After some back and forth with Darling, Luttrell said the city council stepped in and said “if we have to, we will take it by eminent domain to keep the roadway open.”

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A vote on Darling’s proposal has been postponed by the city’s planning board while Luttrell waits for the results of an appraisal on the portion of the property that includes the roadway. After the appraisal is done, the city could move forward with purchasing the land through eminent domain, Luttrell said.

However, if Darling disputes the purchase, the conflict could wind up in court.

Since the roadway has been used for years by the public — and connects two frequently used, waterfront parks — Luttrell said city officials believe an eminent domain claim would succeed.

During the summer months, three festivals, including the Maine Lobster Festival, take place in Harbor Park and attendees use the roadway, Luttrell said. The roadway is also used by patrons of Schooner’s who dock at the Middle Pier, located off neighboring Buoy Park

“It’s a very well-used pass through from park to park […] It would only be a pedestrian passageway if the proposed restaurant went in its place,” Luttrell said. “We can show very easily the benefit in keeping this open as a road.”

A message left for Darling was not returned Wednesday.

Related: After restoration, Rockland schooner Ladona hits the water

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