Citizens weigh in prior to Rockport Planning Board’s reconsideration of Village hotel permit issues

Tue, 01/25/2022 - 3:00pm

    ROCKPORT — Thursday evening, Jan. 27, via Zoom, the Rockport Planning Board will again take up the controversial issue of a new hotel that has been under construction in Rockport Village. In a December decision, Knox County Superior Court Bruce Mallonee directed the town to review parking and architectural harmony aspects of the hotel. The remand was specific in its order, and the Planning Board will address the task as the third agenda item at the upcoming meeting.

    In advance of the meeting, 34 citizens, plus the Camden-Rockport Chamber of Commerce, submitted letters to the Rockport Planning Board, which are posted here. 

    The sentiments expressed in the letters encourage the Planning Board to uphold the municipal support of the hotel’s architectural features, many of which are in place, given that the exterior of the hotel is already erected and the building was well under construction prior to the judge’s order. They also offer general notes of backing for the hotel project.

    The court action culminated months of municipal and legal opposition to the hotel project by Rockport citizens and the organization known as Friends of Rockport.

    In early January, Knox County Justice Mallonee directed the Rockport Planning Board to reconsider a site plan application for the hotel, and reversed approval of the hotel’s building permit.  The judgment followed his Dec. Dec. 1 order remanding the town’s approval of the hotel back to the Rockport Planning Board to address parking issues and the architectural harmony of the building. 

    Now, the quasi-judicial Planning Board, consisting of seven Rockport resident volunteers, must review the town’s land use ordinance and parking rules, as they apply to the Central Street hotel.

    Current Planning Board members are Joe Sternowski, John Viehman, Tom Laurent, Victoria Condon, Mark X. Haley, II, David Pio and Carter Skemp.

    On January 24, 140 citizens signed a letter submitted in favor of the hotel, stating: “It is very clear that the overwhelming majority of Rockport residents are in support of the Rockport Harbor Hotel, despite the very expensive clamor created by the ‘Friends of Rockport.’

    It is our hope that the ‘Friends’ obsession with blocking this new business causes no further acrimony in our town and not cost our town’s taxpayers more than the $130,000 already incurred in legal fees or the estimated additional $100,000 the town may incur if the ‘Friends’ legal maneuvers continue.”

    The letter continued to counter what the signatories described as a vilification of the Smith family, who are the hotel’s owners and builders.

    “The Smith family are good people and good neighbors here in Knox County. We welcome them into downtown Rockport and we welcome their latest effort to restore vitality in a village that for decades has seen the failure of one business after another. Yes, Rockport is finally going to have to confront the parking problems that were officially recognized over thirty years ago. Yes, there will be additional lights and sound in the downtown area….as well as significantly enhanced tax revenues. To us that smells like success for Rockport’s harbor village…and beyond.

    “Every single one of us would rally to the ‘defense’ of Rockport were we to see inappropriate development coming to this site,” they wrote. “That is simply not the present case and we are glad that the Smith family acquired this property and are going to help steer the harbor village in a meaningful and lastingly positive direction.”

    For those who now declare that they will never countenance this hotel, we’d like to remind them of the old Maine observation that ‘here, never is about seven years.’”

    In a different letter, this one signed by Clare Tully, of Rockport and a member of the Friends of Rockport, she explained the reasoning behind the actions opposing the hotel.

    “The Smiths’ PR campaign is intended to sway the opinions of the Planning Board members who will meet this Thursday, 1/27,” she wrote. “At the meeting, the Board will consider the architectural harmony and parking requirements of the hotel. Justice Bruce Mallonee of the Knox County Superior Court remanded these issues as having not been adequately vetted during the initial hearings. Justice Mallonee has ruled in our favor on almost every claim and is now considering the scenic view argument, as well.

    “The Friends of Rockport and residents never wanted this to end up in court. We appreciate the hard work of our elected and volunteer Town officials and our Town employees. We recognize and respect the entrepreneurial skills, civic contributions, and philanthropy of Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith.

    “We tried hard to seek mutually acceptable compromises from the very beginning. Long before any bricks were ever laid for the hotel, a large grassroots coalition of residents from all five neighborhoods sent emails to Debra Hall, the former Chair of the Select Board, and the current Chair and Vice Chair of the Planning Board, Joe Sternowski and John Viehman, and to Bill Post, our former Town Manager.”

    Additionally, she wrote: “Before the August 18, 2020 election, an anonymous postcard also was mailed to every Rockport resident which falsely alleged that the citizens’ petitions were ‘private petitions’ signed by ‘out of state VRBO owners.’ In fact, over 325 registered voters from all five Rockport neighborhoods signed them. ( 8/1/20, “We Hope You Will Consider our Rockport Recommendations”, Pen Bay Pilot) It is not the plaintiffs who have made “misleading statements” as the Smiths claimed in their recent group mail. (1/18/21)

    “We believe this dispute never would have reached this point if Select Board Chair Michelle Hannan and Town Manager Jon Duke had been at the helm back then. Both are Rockport natives who are pragmatic, fiscally conservative and fair minded.

    The previous administration told us that the cost of an independent traffic study (about $7,000) was “too expensive,” yet Chair Hall proceeded to chart an expensive and contentious course which has cost taxpayers over $120,000 so far in legal fees, and during a pandemic no less. Much of these legal fees were spent trying to overrule the expressed will of the Town’s own residents, who voted to limit the hotel to 20 rooms and require an independent parking study for exceptions like remote parking.”

    Tully ended her letter by saying: “We believe that a settlement would be in the best interests of the Town, our residents and the Smiths.”

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at; 207-706-6657