Cites Off-site parking, architectural harmony as up for review

Judge remands Rockport hotel decision back to town planning board

Fri, 12/03/2021 - 1:15pm

    ROCKPORT — Knox County Superior Court Justice Bruce Mallonee issued his decision and order Dec. 2 concerning the town’s approval of a new hotel in Rockport Village, saying the Planning Board must take another look at parking issues and architectural harmony of the building.

    He also ordered another court hearing to discuss further action concerning how town ordinance amendments passed at the 2020 Town Meeting affects the hotel’s building permit.

    Since early October, Justice Mallonee has been considering the case of plaintiffs Friends of Rockport, John Priestley, Mark Schwarzmann and Clare Tully, versus defendant Town of Rockport and its party of interest, 20 Central Street LLC.  

    20 Central Street LLC is the entity that is currently constructing the new hotel in Rockport Village. The owners are Stuart and Marianne Smith, and their son, Tyler Smith.

    The Friends of Rockport are grateful to Justice Mallonee for his thoughtful and balanced consideration of the important issues involved in this case,” wrote Attorney Kristin Collins, who represents the plaintiffs, in a Dec. 3 news release/statement, saying the “judge’s ruling agreed with most of the arguments advanced by the Friends of Rockport.”

    The Town of Rockport declined to comment on the decision, with Town Manager Jon Duke saying Dec. 3 that he would wait until a hearing that Justice Mallonee would be holding in the middle of December to, “decide on remedies from this decision.”

    The Rockport Planning Board will address the case within the next month or so, said Duke, “but there are decisions to be made regarding the code officer’s permit and the work ongoing at the site that are left to be determined.”

    Concerning the upcoming hearing, Attorney Collins said: “Perhaps most importantly, Justice Mallonee found that the town ordinances passed by popular vote of the citizens of Rockport on August 18, 2020 do indeed apply to the proposed hotel. These ordinances limit any hotel in downtown Rockport to 20 rooms or less, and require a traffic study prior to approval of any project. This is likely to significantly alter the design of the hotel as well as the developer’s plans to utilize a satellite lot nearly a mile away on Route 1. The judge has indicated that there will be a further hearing to define exactly how this ruling will be made effective.”

    Justice Mallonee’s Dec. 2 decision follows months of municipal and court appeals and filings concerning town approval of the construction of a 26-room hotel in Rockport Village. The hotel building is currently well under way, with contractors at work there daily.

    In May 2020, the Rockport Planning Board gave final approval of the hotel’s site plan.

    The plaintiffs appealed to the Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals, which upheld the Planning Board’s decision.

    In March 2021, the Rockport Code Enforcement Officer issued a building permit for the 26-room hotel. The plaintiffs then appealed to the ZBA to overturn the permit.

    The ZBA upheld the permit issuance, and since early summer, the case has been in purview of Knox County Superior Court and Justice Mallonee.

    On Oct. 4, a hearing was held in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland, with the three parties and their attorneys in attendance. After the hearing, Mallonee continued his review of the case, and all was quiet until his Dec. 2 decision and order (see attached PDF for full order).

    In his order Justice Mallonee said the case must be remanded back to the town on the two points he raised.

    With respect to off-site parking, “remand is necessary for the Board to consider and enter findings of fact regarding the parking requirements that were actually waived for Union Hall and the extent to which the Sandy’s Way lot is shared with other establishments and with the general public,” he wrote.

    Mallonee also said the Planning Board should address whether the hotel balconies comform to architectural harmony requirements of the town’s land use ordinance, “and document the underlying factual basis for its decision consistent with the court’s decision above.”

    He noted in his decision that the Planning Board’s 2020 approval of the proposed design, “seems instead to have been based on the observation that other building ‘around the corner’ have decks of some sort (‘a number of large decks’).

    Mallonee said there was no discussion of the nature of those decks and whether they fall within the field of vision of a person standing on Central Street or how the bank of buildings might blend in with, complement, or clash with nearby and adjacent buildings.

    He concluded that without some discussion on the part of the Planning Board about the appearance of the proposed hotel, within its proposed context, “as opposed to reference to an unquantified number of undescribed features of unspecified nearby buildings, the court cannot see that the the requirements of the land use ordinance were fulfilled.”

    Furthermore, in his judgment, Mallonee said that the ordinance amendments approved by voters Aug. 18, 2020 apply to the 20 Central LLC application for a building permit.

    He wrote that while the matter is remanded to the Planning Board, that entity, “may find it impractical to act before final relief is entered in the civil matter but setting its own schedule is of course its prerogative.”

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