Letter to the editor

Friends of Rockport issue statement regarding Rockport Harbor Hotel litigation

Mon, 05/23/2022 - 7:45pm

    Having achieved our primary goals, Friends of Rockport has decided to withdraw from any further litigation related to the Rockport Harbor Hotel. 

    Our successes in this effort include enforcement of the two voter approved citizens’ petitions regarding such construction, thus reducing the size of the hotel from 35 to 20 rooms and having the town commission (at the developer’s expense) an independent traffic and parking study. This study confirmed the concerns that many residents voiced to the Town, namely that using a remote valet parking service across almost a mile of residential streets with poor sightlines poses safety risks.

    From the start, we worked hard to seek reasonable compromises with the Smith family and the Town. This effort was supported by many Town residents, who wrote an unprecedented number of emails, showed up at public meetings, and implored the Town to seek out and consider objective data before making decisions which would impact Rockport’s beloved village and harbor for generations to come.

    Our efforts were driven by our desire to have Rockport’s Planning Board consider objective facts, not just their own unfounded opinions or those of the Smiths’ paid advisers.  We also wanted the town to observe and enforce the ordinances intended to preserve Rockport’s historic character and scenic views for the benefit of all residents. 

    In support of our efforts, a large and passionate grassroots coalition of residents from all five Rockport neighborhoods voted into law citizens’ petitions which addressed the hotel’s room count and traffic and parking concerns. We resorted to litigation only after the Town and the developer refused to apply these revised ordinances to the hotel, thereby overriding the expressed will of the voters.

    After our success with the petitions, we repeatedly tried to initiate settlement discussions with the Smiths and the Town on the remaining issues, to bring the litigation to a close and avoid further legal expense to taxpayers. Unfortunately, the Town and the Smiths refused to meet with us. This intransigence is the principal reason why the Town incurred such high legal expenses, which could have easily been entirely avoided.  

    We share our fellow taxpayers’ concerns over these expenses, which is why, having accomplished most of our goals, we are now withdrawing. 

    The one goal that we did not succeed in, to our deep disappointment, was preservation of any of the scenic view now obliterated by the hotel.

    Justice Bruce Mallonee of Maine Superior Court noted: “Plaintiffs have made a persuasive preliminary showing that construction of the hotel in accordance with 20 Central’s building permit will close off sight-lines for townspeople that have existed for decades. In a scenic harbor side village in which both civic enjoyment and commercial success are predicated on scenic views, this could constitute a substantial loss.”

    Now a building permit has been issued for a 20 room hotel with the same footprint as the original 35 room hotel. Despite the obvious, common-sense conclusion that a hotel with 43% fewer rooms could preserve some of the scenic harbor views as the ordinance demands, the Town made no effort to explore whether this was possible or to ask the Smiths for alternative plans. While we were confident Maine’s Supreme Court would have agreed with us on this issue, any judgment would have to be implemented by the Planning Board and we can no longer put faith in that process.

    We want to thank our many fellow residents who supported our citizens’ petition effort and enabled our successes.  Despite our differences on the issues, we also want to thank our Town employees, officials and volunteers. Having sat through countless Town meetings over the past few years with them, we have a renewed appreciation for the demands of their service to our Town. 

    Finally, we look forward to working with the Town and fellow volunteers on the Goose River bridge renovation, the RES site development, public parking options downtown, and other projects now underway. Like the hotel and the library, the outcome of these projects will shape the look and experience of our historic and beloved village and harbor for future generations of residents and tourists.

    Clare Tully lives in Rockport and is president of the Friends of Rockport