Rockport group cites citizen petitions, voter approval at 2020 town meeting

Judge issues temporary restraining order on Rockport from issuing permits for Village hotel

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 8:45am

    ROCKLAND – On Jan. 7, the nonprofit Friends of Rockport filed a court complaint requesting an injunction of, and a temporary restraining order against, any building permits issued by the town’s code enforcement office for a proposed Village hotel. Justice Bruce Mallonee responded Jan. 8 with a restraining order placed on the town from issuing such a permit.

    A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13 regarding the continuation of the injunction through the decision on the case, said Attorney Kristin Collins, who represents the Friends of Rockport.

    “On motion by the plaintiffs, the Court hereby finds that Plaintiffs have met their burden pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 65 to demonstrate that issuance by the Town of Rockport for a building permit related to the hotel proposed for 20 Central Street, Rockport, will cause them irreparable harm, that such harm exceeds any harm to the Defendant and Party-in-Interest, and that the Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of this case,” wrote Justice Bruce Mallonee, Jan. 8. 

    “I therefore order that the Town of Rockport be temporarily restrained from issuing a building permit for the proposed hotel at 20 Central Street until such time as the Court may hold a hearing on the requested preliminary injunction and/or the merits of the case,” he wrote.

    He wrote that 20 Central Street LLC, “shall further be temporarily restrained from undertaking construction activities related to the proposed hotel, whether with or without a building permit.”

    The hotel project had received an excavation permit from the town last fall, allowing for filling and excavation in prep for possible development, and allowing for the excavation of 6,050 square feet of existing soil with some ledge removal possible.

    The injunctive relief request was filed against the Town of Rockport, and names 20 Central Street LLC, the business owned by Stuart, Maryann and Tyler Smith, and which has been asking the town for permission to build a 26-room hotel in Rockland Village, as a party-in-interest.

    Attorney Collins, who is with the Portland-based firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau and Pachios, filed the complaints as representing the Friends of Rockport, and naming Clare Tully, president of Friends of Rockport; Mark Schwarzmann, treasurer of Friends of Rockport; and John Priestley, a Rockport resident.

    This latest action follows the Jan. 6 Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, at which that board’s members found that the town’s Planning Board did not err when it granted approval of the hotel’s site plan May 21, 2020.

    The four-story hotel is planned for construction at 20 Central Street, with off-site parking at the former Hoboken Garden site on Commercial Street.

    A final ZBA vote is not anticipated until Jan. 21, when the that board is scheduled to review its findings of fact and take a final vote on an appeal that had been filed by 13 citizens, also represented by Collins.

    The appellants contended the Planning Board abused its discretion and made findings not supported by substantial evidence last spring when approving the project’s site plan that would allow 20 Central Street LLC to pursue a building permit for the new hotel.

    The Friends of Rockport, according to the complaint, was formed, “to promote reasonable regulation of growth in the Town of Rockport.”

    Membership of the Friends of Rockport includes, “many other concerned Rockport citizens and property owners who signed the petitions at issue in this complaint,” the Jan. 7 complaint reads.

    In their request for a temporary restraining order, the plaintiffs asked for the suspension of all activity related to the construction of the hotel.

    They said it was warranted while, “the court considers legal arguments regarding whether amendments to the Town of Rockport Land Use Ordinance must be applied so as to require the hotel to be reduced from 26 to 20 rooms and subjected to a traffic and parking study.”

    To that regard, the plaintiffs are arguing that amendments to Rockport’s Land Use Ordinance must be applied to the hotel project.

    Those amendments were approved by voters at the Aug. 18 Rockport Town Meeting, and wording of one of the citizen-initiative amendments made it retroactive and applicable to any facilities that had not received final approval as of 45 days prior to enactment of the amendment.

    The other amendment, also approved by voters, to reduce the number of allowed hotel rooms in the Village zone to 20 guest rooms, incorporated language retroactive to March 1, 2020.

    The town meeting warrant articles called for, respectively, new parking rules that stipulated traffic studies and limits on hotel rooms in the downtown zoning district.

    Article 3 passed at a vote of 332 to 250.

    Article 4 passed at 328 to 271.

    “Both petitions were submitted and accepted by the Town of Rockport for inclusion on the warrant for the June 9, 2020 annual town meeting,” the Jan. 7, 2021 complaint said. “They passed by significant margins at the town meeting, which was ultimately postponed to August 18, 2020 due to the COVI-19 pandemic.”

    Collins continued in the complaint that: “On Aug. 19, 2020 (the day after the election), Mark Coursey, attorney for 20 Central Street LLC, submitted a letter to the Town in which he argued that despite the included retroactivity language, the two petitions could not be applied to the proposed hotel because, pursuant to 30aA M.R.S. 3007(6), they were passed more than 45 days after the Planning Board’s final approval of the hotel on May 21, 2020. Had the town meeting been held as required by Charter on June 9, 2020, the petitioned amendments would have been enacted only 19 days after the final approval. To date, the Town has declined whether the petitioned amendments must or will be applied to the proposed hotel.”

    In the appeal for the injunction, Collins wrote that the petitioned amendments were generated out of a concern that the proposed hotel would be too large in scale for Rockport Village and would cause the elimination of a scenic view of Rockport Harbor, while adding excessive traffic and parking burdens in the Village.

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