Unanimous vote in favor of off-site, valet parking plan

Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals approves parking plan for proposed hotel

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 3:15pm

Story Location:
3 Camden Street
Apt. 2
Rockport  Maine  04856
United States

    Members of the Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted unanimously in favor of a plan for off-site parking plan by the developers of a proposed 35-room hotel in Rockport Village.
    At the beginning of the meeting, two board members, Kim Graffam and Chairman Geoffrey Parker, described potential conflicts or involvement with the project and the applicants, which could cause them to recuse themselves from judging the parking appeal without bias.
    Graffam said that her family owned the properties now owned by the Smiths for generations, and acknowledged that at a previous Planning Board meeting she said she favored developing downtown Rockport and didn’t perceive parking for a new hotel to “be an issue.”
    Parker said each year he conducts audio and visual servicing to clients of Smith properties such as the Union Hall and 16 Bayview. He said that it is typically as little as five hours each year. Fellow board members voted unanimously that neither Graffam nor Parker should recuse themselves.
    Tyler Smith, who with his parents Maryann and Stuart Smith, have proposed to build a four-story hotel at 20 Central Street, appeared before the board along with Will Gartley of Gartley and Dorsky Engineers, Matthew Levin who manages the Smith’s three hotels in Camden, and the Smiths’ legal counsel, Mark Corsey.
    The nearly four-hour meeting considered a plan presented by Gartley that entailed remote parking for guest vehicles would be established at 310 Commercial Street, a property where Main Street Meats and Guinea Ridge Farm are located, and which is also owned by Smith as Hoboken House LLC. 

    “The area is existing gravel and will not require changes or improvements,” said Gartley. “This area is not currently used or included in the lease to the greenhouse operators....The leased parking is located at 310 Commercial Street, which is approximately 0.7 miles from 20 Central Street. The leased parking will be for valet only and is approximately a two-minute drive.”

    The property at 310 Commercial Street is zoned within the town’s business district, and hotel parking is a permitted use within this zone. Gartley’s proposal said the Rockport Harbor Hotel, “will be working with 18 Central Oyster Bar and Grille and Nina June to provide complimentary valet parking for customers who want the convenience of this service.”

    The proposed Rockport Harbor Hotel would be built on a vacant lot between the Shepherd Block and Union Hall, two existing buildings that now house businesses, including the restaurants 18 Central, Nina June and Seafolk Coffee, as well as the nonprofit Bay Chamber Concerts. Renderings of the facade of the building echo the aesthetic of one of the Smith’s Camden Hotels, 16 Bayview, which has black iron balconies facing the street and the harbor.

    Smith said that in putting together the off-site parking plan, he looked at data from the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) to calculate what impact the valet parking service on Central St., across the Goose River Bridge and up Pascal Avenue to the remote site, would have on the town.

    “Based on that we don’t feel that there’s going to be any significant impact. As a matter of fact there was an average number of 4,710 daily trips of vehicles travelling down Central St. So we do not feel the addition of minimal valet, in season, when it’s needed, would impact that large number,” said Smith.

    During a period of public comment, residents, including  Clare Tulley, voiced concerns regarding pedestrian safety, the size of the hotel, and the distance between the hotel at 20 Central Street and the parking area at 310 Commercial Street.

    “The [Commercial Street] lot is not within a reasonable distance of the hotel under the [Land Use] Ordinance, it’s almost three-quarters of a mile away,” she said. “The variance to the parking ordinance is also intended for businesses who can’t establish parking on site...but Stuart [Smith] can establish parking on site; in fact, Stuart owns the parking lot behind the hotel. He just doesn’t have enough spaces to build a five-story, 35-room hotel with two restaurants and a rooftop bar,” said Tulley.

    “On the issue that’s in front of you, with offsite parking, it’s just impractical to suggest that people who are staying at a hotel in Rockport, Maine, with it’s limited number of things to do in the harbor within walking distance, are going to be OK with giving their keys to someone and each time they want their car back, having to wait,” said Attorney Kristin Collins, who represents residents Kim and Rex Reymeyer. “If I were staying at the hotel, I would park on the street.... But it doesn’t work to have hotel guests parking all over town while there’s this problem with parking.”

    Collins also objected to Graffam’s participation in the meeting, stating that Graffam had a clearly-established bias in the matter. She also raised concerns about the shared parking of the lot the Smith’s own behind the proposed hotel, and the fact that no spaces had been designated for existing businesses or offices along Central Street. 

    “I think there’s a basic problem in what the Board of Appeals is asked to do tonight, I think your jurisdiction is broader than what’s being posed to you, and we will absolutely appeal this if it goes back to the Planning Board,” said Collins.

    Abutting property owner Taylor Allen, who operates Rockport Marine, spoke in favor of the parking proposal.

    “I can’t speak to the nuances of the parking ordinances, but it does seem to me that it’s in the applicant’s best interest to solve the parking project because otherwise it’s going to make their project even harder to accomplish. The off-site parking at Hoboken strikes me as a reasonable solution and from my perspective a five minute wait for a car seems like a pretty reasonable time frame, particularly if people understand coming in that that’s what the expectation is,” said Allen.

    Kristen Smith, Tyler’s wife, expressed her opinions online, as the meeting was streamed on the town website, and challenged the idea that parking in the area would already be insufficient once the new Rockport Public Library opens on Limerock Street.

    “Seafolk and 18 Central DO NOT have the same peak demand. Neither does Union Hall and Bay Chamber, etc. The town's parking issue is the town's issue, not that of an owner of a private parking lots. The traffic numbers that Will Gartley stated for 2016 were when there was a library at that same location in Rockport, the new library should not make a significant impact on the numbers,” said Smith.
    “We’re not just dealing with local entities that we may know and have a lease of consistency and community good will, to me we have to look at what, if any of these properties, including the lease at [310 Commercial St.] is sold to a third party who is an unknown entity and may go about things differently. My concerns are enforcement, the problem of perpetuity and control,” said board member Terri Mackenzie of a proposed five-year lease agreement between 20 Central Street LLC and Hoboken House LLC to provide the valet parking spaces.
    After further discussion, Parker made a motion that the Board of Appeals “permits the applicant to utilize off-street parking at 310 Commercial St. consisting of a minimum of 34 spaces to be used to meet the off-street parking requirement for the hotel at 20 Central St.” The lease for the parking would stay in effect for as long as the hotel is in operation. The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
    The application now returns this evening, Jan. 23, before the Rockport Planning Board for further consideration.