ROCKPORT — The Rockport Planning board voted unanimously Nov. 21 to continue its review of a proposed five-story hotel to be built by Stuart and Tyler Smith at 20 Central St. in downtown Rockport. The continuance is predicated on a request by the board that the Smiths and their engineer, Will Gartley, of Gartley and Dorsky, provide additional information about parking, as well as water and sewer pump statistics.
The nearly three-hour review of the project included an historic slideshow of Central Street by Tyler Smith, who said his intention was to build a hotel that “looked like it was there for 100 years.”
The board took up its second review of the application at the Nov. 21 regularly scheduled planning board meeting, and then immediately paused the meeting to review documents provided to them that afternoon by Smith and Gartley.
Design renderings provided by Gartley depict a five-story brick building which would house 35 guest rooms, a restaurant on the ground floor and a bar on the top floor. A portion of the fifth floor bar area would be open-air, and the facade of the Central Street and harbor sides of the hotel would feature balconies off of the guest rooms.
The Smiths purchased 14, 16, 18 and 20 Central Street in 2016. The 18 Central Street parcel includes the Shepard Building and the private parking lot behind, which is accessed by driving down toward the harbor on Main Street. 20 Central Street is a vacant lot directly adjacent to the Shepard Building. 14 and 16 Central, where two small homes once sat, is vacant parcel of land between the Shephard Building and Mary Lea Park.
Planning Board Chairman Joe Sternowski said that in a letter from the Rockport Fire Department, Chief Jason Peasley said there were no concerns by the department of a fire truck entering at least the first 40 feet of parking spaces at the rear of the building, which are accessed via Main Street and Sandy’s Way.
A letter from the Rockport Police Department stated there was a concern with the loading zone currently at the corner of Central and Main streets, as it could cause a blind corner; the department said two car crashes had been reported at the intersection since 2011.
At an October meeting when the board initially reviewed the application, Sternowski had expressed concern about the narrowness of Main Street, which leads to Rockport Marine, the Rockport Boat Club, and would be used by hotel guests to access the parking lot at the rear of the building.
Gartley said he had measured the road and that it was approximately 19 feet wide. Asked by Sternowski what a “normal width” for a two-way street was, Gartley said that Main Street was on the narrow side and most streets would be at least a foot or two wider.
“I have a question about certification material. The letter that was received by MaineWater... it’s not clear to me in this letter that they’ve committed in this letter that [the hotel] would meet the requirements of the infrastructure that’s downtown.... It seems that they’ve left a number of things open that might need to be changed,” said Sternowski.
Gartley said that the size of the water lines going into the building had yet to be determined. Later in the meeting, the board questioned whether the water company could provide adequate water pressure to the five levels of the hotel and adequate pressure to fire hydrants, should a fire truck need to extinguish a fire at the top most floor of the structure.
The issue of parking for hotel guests and staff was raised both by the board and by members of the public, the latter who spoke during a public comment period at the meeting or remarked online via the LiveStream feed of the meeting.
Under the town’s current land use ordinance, the hotel would need to provide a total of 37 parking spaces: one for each of the rooms, and two extra spaces. The majority of these spaces would be sourced from the lot in the back of the building, which is owned by the Smiths and consists of approximately 50 spaces.
The spaces have been used previously by tenants of the adjacent buildings, Union Hall, Bay Chamber Concerts or customers and employees of the restaurants 18 Central and Nina June.
At last month’s meeting, Tyler Smith estimated that at one time as many as 12 employees of the hotel would be working at the property. Smith said the employees would park offsite or carpool to work. The parking spaces would leased from the Shepard building, which the Smith’s own, to the hotel through a separate LLC.
Central Street resident Michael Hamden expressed concern about parking for the hotel as well as the overall “massing” of the building.
He also asked how the balconies on the front of the building, facing Central Street, were in keeping with New England aesthetics.
Rockport resident Betsy Elwin also questioned the parking plan, saying that when the parking plan for the new Rockport Public Library was created, fewer spaces were allocated along Memorial Park and Limerock Street with the expectation that parking would be available at the rear of the hotel along Sandy’s Way and below the Opera House, especially for library staff.
“We’re in the process of building a new library and parking was a big problem up there,” she said. “The Select Board decided not to add additional parking. Part of the reason was they said ‘there’s so much parking in town – there’s parking on the street, there’s parking behind the Shepard block,’ which isn’t true. That is a private parking lot and the people that are building this [hotel] are entitled to use those spots, but that means those spots are not available for other uses.”
Former Rockport Planning Board member John Priestley said that the parking spaces at the rear of the building were initially assigned to be used by a particular facility; e.g., Union Hall and the Shephard Building, and that it would be the obligation of developers to satisfy the existing parking requirements before assigned them to a new entity.
“The parking spaces that are delineated on this proposal are spaces that were required to be provided to in a past site plan review to all the properties on that side of the street.... I think in simplest terms what I see here is an attempt to ignore that obligation and the work of the Planning Board that reviewed the previous project and in effect ignore the intent of the ordinance and reassign those parking spaces to another function as if it were a new start, but all of those spaces are spoken for.... If you do the calculations of the businesses, the assembly halls, the restaurants, there aren’t enough parking spaces along Sandy’s Way. So again my point is...,” said Priestley.
“I got your point,” said Sternowski.
“I don’t know if it’s clear to the public, but it feels like there’s a little bit of a shell game going on here,” said Priestley.
Some residents urged the planning board to approve the plan.
“I’m a big supporter of this plan, and hope that you will ultimately approve it,” said Taylor Allen, whose business Rockport Marine is located directly beneath the proposed hotel, on the water.
Following the public comment period the board performed a review of the project’s compliance with performance standards as outlined in the town’s Land Use Ordinance.
Section 803 deals with traffic circulation; Smith said that guest drop-off and pick-up would likely occur on Central Street. This portion of the LUO also speaks to off-street parking and loading centers. In addition to the 37 spaces allocated to the guest rooms, parking would need to be provided in anticipation of guests to the facility’s two restaurants.
“I think you have a very nice summary here. In your application you’ve outlined that the two restaurants would have a total of 84 seats. There’s a requirement of one parking space for each three seats, and that would total 28 parking spaces,” said Sternowski.
At one point in the discussion, board member John Viehman suggested that perhaps the Smiths could use a town-owned lot beneath the building, where boats are currently stored, for additional parking.
“Have you guys explored any ideas with that, because that seems like... I don’t know if that’s where Taylor [Allen] has his boats stored in the winter, I don’t know what the issues are there, but that could easily be developed,” said Viehman.
“This is very tentative, but we are looking at some engineering to look at additional parking, but that’s not something that’s going to occur very quickly,” said Town Planner Bill Najpaeur.
“I would entertain a motion that there be a continuance, and the items to be addressed at the next meeting would be the parking, the storm water run off, the hydrant testing and the sewer pump test,” said Sternowski.
The motion was made by Ted Skowronski, and unanimously approved by the board. The next meeting of the Rockport Planning Board is Thursday, Dec. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House.