The Rockport Select Board believes that once a property owner has received overwhelming voter approval of a development project, plus unanimous approval of the Planning Board, voters should not be able reverse these approvals retroactively.
The Rockport Select Board was told on July 27 that citizen petitions are one of the fundamental rights of citizens. We agree. The Select Board has expressed no issue with the right of citizens to petition to have ordinances put on the ballot. What the Select Board has taken issue with is the misrepresentations made by those advocating for citizens to sign the petitions and what they are telling you, as voters.
The recent mailers placed in our mailboxes claim that a vote in favor of Article 4 would reduce your tax burden “without overwhelming historic downtown with an oversized building.” But the citizen petitioned ordinances would not change the overall size of the hotel. The petitioned ordinances would not do away with the rooftop bar. And even though the mailer claims that Article 4 would preserve the “century old scenic Harbor view” – it would not. Besides that, the same century-old harbor view exists a short 20 yards away in the municipally-owned park, for all to enjoy.
What Article 4 would do is retroactively reduce the size of the Planning Board approved hotel from 26 rooms to 20. The developer would be free to simply make those 20 rooms bigger without changing the overall size of the hotel. Why is it worth enacting an ordinance to reduce the hotel by 6 rooms? The mailer tells us that a vote in favor of Article 4 would “preserve public parking for residents and other visitors.” But what advocates behind the mailer fail to tell you, and failed to tell the Planning Board and ZBA, is that some own “un-hosted” short term rentals right around the corner from the hotel for which they provide no designated off-street parking. That means that while this small group of advocates tell us that the reduction of 6 rooms is very important to preserve the limited parking space we have in the downtown area – their renters and the renters from the short-term rentals surrounding them directly benefit from those spaces. The message -- it’s okay for their renters to park on the street but not the hotel guests. (The irony is that the developer has already provided for designated off-street parking for the hotel guests – it’s the advocates who own “un-hosted” short term rentals that have not.)
The voters of Rockport approved the construction of 40 hotel rooms in the downtown district in June 2017, rooms to be approved on a first come-first served basis. The voters approved this ordinance by an overwhelming majority – 729 in favor with 308 opposed. This ordinance was relied upon by the developer to purchase property, expend architectural and engineering fees and the other costs associated with going through the Town’s planning process. The developer appeared before the Planning Board and the ZBA on numerous occasions making adjustments, meeting the conditions imposed by those bodies and complying with the Town’s ordinances. While former Planning Boards had waived parking requirements for other businesses in the downtown district, the current Planning Board did not – ensuring that every hotel parking space required by the ordinance was either allocated through existing parking or off-site valet parking approved by the ZBA.
And during the many long hours of testimony and deliberation that the Planning Board and ZBA undertook, they patiently listened to those who supported the hotel and those who did not. While the advocates against the hotel made their best arguments – the Planning Board voted unanimously to support it. The ZBA voted unanimously to approve the off-site parking. As volunteers, the members of these bodies diligently spent their personal time in service to the Town, in good faith weighed the arguments on both sides and exercised their best judgment on our behalf. That’s what they are charged with doing. Nonetheless, a few of those who advocated against the hotel decided to circulate a petition to retroactively overturn the vote of 729 Rockport residents and the determinations of the Planning Board and the ZBA. The Planning Board found that Article 4, applying ordinances retroactively to the hotel project, and in fact designed for that very purpose, is “unethical” and “just wrong.” They voted unanimously to recommend to the voters a “NO” vote on Article 4.
The issue then came before the Select Board who were bystanders in the hotel approval process. The Select Board has no role in these matters. In considering whether to put Article 4 on the ballot, the Select Board members made it clear that they were doing so reluctantly and only because State law required them to do so. The Select Board has maintained that a vote in favor of Article 4 will send a message to future development in Rockport (which results in lowering your taxes) that Rockport is not open for business. The Board members likewise found the retroactive nature of the petitions to be “offensive,” “insulting” to the hard work of the Planning Board and ZBA and “unjust” to the developer who had complied with the law and process provided for in the Town’s ordinances.
We doubt that many people who signed the petitions were aware of these facts – the true nature of the retroactive application being sought and the undisclosed financial interest of the advocates behind the petitions.
This is not the Rockport Maine we bought into – is it the one you know? Please stand by our ordinances, support our Planning Board and ZBA – and vote NO on the citizen petitions on August 18th.
Rockport Select Board
Debra Hall, Chair
Denise Munger, Vice Chair