Tentatively schedules village hotel appeals hearing

UPDATE: Rockport remains quiet on next steps following town votes related to Village hotel

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 2:30pm

    ROCKPORT — Four attorneys representing four different interests — the Town of Rockport Planning Board, the Town of Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals, the group the Friends of Rockport, and 20 Central LLC, the business that wants to build Rockport Harbor Hotel on Central Street — have talked several times over the past few months about procedural schedules and details leading up to a proposed November hearing, when the Friends of Rockport will appeal the planning board’s site plan approval for the new hotel.

    The Zoning Board of Appeals hearing is tentatively scheduled for November; dates under consideration at this point are Nov. 12 or 19. 

    In the meantime, an excavation permit has been granted to 20 Central LLC by the town’s planning and code enforcement office. The permit allows 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.

    Once the engineering and design work is finished, 20 Central LLC will be applying for a building permit, said LLC principal Tyler Smith, Oct. 15.

    Since August, when Rockport voters approved at the polls two citizen-initiated petitions that were the outgrowth of opposition of the  proposal to build a 22-room hotel on Central Street in Rockport, the town has not stated what the next procedural steps may be.

    The petitions were placed on the Rockport 2020 Town Meeting warrant, Aug. 18, as Article 3 and 4. The articles called for, respectively, new parking rules that call for traffic studies, as well as limits on hotel rooms in the downtown zoning district.

    Article 3 required an independent traffic study by a qualified professional paid for by the developer, not Rockport taxpayers. Article 4 limited hotels in the downtown district to 20 rooms. The language was crafted to include 20 Central LLC’s planned hotel on Central Street overlooking the harbor.

    Article 3 passed at a vote of 332 to 250. Article 4 passed at 328 to 271.

    While the Zoning Board of Appeals is tentatively looking at Nov. 12 or 19 for a hearing on the site plan review approval, the Select Board has discussed behind closed doors with the town’s attorney the Aug. 18 voter approval of the citizen petitions.

    “We have had a recent executive session to receive advice from legal counsel relating to the petitions,” she said, Oct. 9.

    When asked what that counsel advice comprised, Hall declined to comment.

    Attorney Kristin Collins, who is with the Portland-based firm Preti Flaherty and who represents citizens who are appealing the May 21 Planning Board site plan approval for the development of the Rockport Harbor Hotel, at 20 Central Street, said Oct. 8 that she has been in conference call meetings with the town’s planning board attorney, Phil Saucier, of the Portland-based Bernstein Shur, along with Leah Rachin, of the Portland-based firm Drummond Woodsum, and who is representing the Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals and Mark Corsey, of Camden Law, who is representing 20 Central LLC.

    The four attorneys have met to discuss procedural matters and timeframes related to the appeal, said Collins.

    “Of concern to the appellants is whether and how the appeal should proceed given that the recently passed ordinance amendments would require the hotel to be redesigned from 26 to 20 rooms in order to receive a building permit,” she said, Oct. 14. “However, the Town has neglected to say whether it will find those ordinance amendments applicable and require the redesign, instead stating that it will issue a decision on this only once a building permit application for the 26-room hotel is presented.  As of today, no building permit has been requested.  However, the Town did issue a demolition permit to the applicant under the premise that the ordinance amendments do not attach to such a permit.”

    Her clients are intending to move forward with the appeal, which asserts:

    1)  the Planning Board Chairman and Vice Chairman had expressed bias in favor of the hotel application;

    2) that a 2009 downtown Rockport parking study should have been excluded from the record, that not enough parking spaces were provided in the plan;

    3) that off-street parking, as proposed for the former Hoboken Gardens space at the intersection of Pascal Avenue and Route 1 fails to meet distance, ownership and site plan approval requirements; 

    4) the Planning Board erred in applying the town’s architectural review standards to the project; 

    5) the Planning Board erred in finding that the proposed hotel would not cause nuisance conditions; and

    6) traffic circulation requirements were not met.

    This appeal marks the second time the ZBA will address the Central Street hotel project.

    On Dec. 19, 20 Central LLC asked Rockport’s ZBA to approve an off-site parking plan for the hotel. 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 ZBA unanimously approved the offsite parking plan.

    Meanwhile, 20 Central LLC is likewise moving ahead with its project, with the outside seating area of 18 Central restaurant getting demolished, and equipment moving into the green space between Union Hall and the Shepherd Block.

    The goal, said Tyler Smith, includes excavation and foundation work.

    “We have been working to dismantle 18 Central's side deck, build a new deck on the back of the building for them and relocate hardscape/landscape materials that were on the site,” he said. “Barricades have been brought in to keep pedestrians safe as we excavate for and construct the front foundation wall.”

    Principals of 20 Central LLC, Stuart and Tyler Smith, said Oct. 15 that they would be applying for a building permit, once they have finalized all of there engineering/design work for the hotel.

    “ Like most large projects of this size we will have multiple phases of the building permit with the excavation permit being the first phase,” said Tyler Smith. “We expect most of the permit phases to be submitted to the town for review by the middle of November.”

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657