Neighbors question look, impact of harbor hotel projectDeveloper says he will not seek tax break or TIF
Rockland — Nearly 100 people packed the former Amalfi restaurant space Feb. 26, many of them South End neighbors asking questions and raising concerns about the proposal to build a 65-room hotel on Ocean Street.
Stuart Smith, part-owner of the waterfront property where the $6.5 million hotel is being proposed, led the meeting. With him was his son Tyler Smith of Bay View Management and a team that included an engineer and three of Smith's employees.
South End residents complained the proposed Rockland Harbor Inn, as depicted in drawings, was "ugly" and would not fit into the neighborhood. Some said the structure was too big or tall. Another resident was concerned that it would increase traffic on Ocean Street.
In answer to one question, Stuart Smith said he would not seek a tax break or to be part of a Tax Increment Financing district. In fact, he expects to pay $150,000 or more in property taxes in Rockland, above what he already pays as the owner of significant property in the city. His properties include the Breakwater Marketplace on Camden Street.
During the meeting, Tyler Smith described the hotel as being four-stories high, and technically meeting the zoning requirement that buildings being limited to 40 feet. The hotel will look taller from the water side than the street due to the way it is built on the slope of the shore. It will be located where the gazebo is now and will not interfere with the existing walking paths or the boardwalk, developers said.
The hotel, once built, will still leave about 250 feet of space between itself and the Boston Financial building, so some views will remain, developers noted.
The rooms will be suites with decks overlooking the harbor. Each room will likely have a fireplace.
The hotel will also include a 200-seat conference and banquet facility.
Smith said he hopes to open in 2016, but the construction will mostly be done off-season to keep from disrupting the busy tourist season.
In addition to plans for the hotel, Smith's team is also headed to the Planning Board Tuesday, March 4 with plans for a daycare and fitness center in the former Amalfi space in the Boston Financial building.
Kendall Merriam of Mechanic Street was the first of the public to speak at the meeting. He asked if Smith would seek a TIF; how the project could be built for less than $20 million; how much the staff be paid above minimum wage; and will it be turned into condominiums if it is not successful? He also commented that it was out of proportion and did not fit with the neighborhood. Asked what he meant, he said he thought it was ugly.
Smith said he was not sure where the $20 million figure comes from. The cost of building the hotel is a per-square-foot building price based on using quality materials, according to Smith and his engineer, Bill Lane of Gartley & Dorsky.
Matthew Levin of Bay View Management said Smith's Camden inns pay front desk workers $10 to $12 per hour and housekeepers $9 per hour to start, well above minimum wage.
As for the look of the building, "I think it's beautiful," Smith said.
He said the goal is to have a traditional New England look for the hotel with gabled roofs and turrets. He compared it to the old Samoset Resort that burned down.
"I certainly will listen to people, but in the end it will be our decision," Smith said of the look of the building.
His son then added that if people had specific ideas, they could send them in to the developers. Sheets with contact information and a place to write questions or comments were provided to those who attended the meeting.
Smith said if he wanted to build condos, he could do that now since they are a permitted use. He said that is exactly what he does not want to see.
In response to concerns about traffic raised by another resident, developers noted the property and existing parking lots were permitted and built originally to deal with the traffic from 600 MBNA employees. Since MBNA has left, Boston Financial has hired 260 employees. Lane said there is parking enough to accommodate the hotel, the daycare/fitness center, the Archer's on the Pier restaurant and Boston Financial.
Smith was also asked what could be done to improve the boardwalk and the landscaping around it. Smith said vandals had destroyed benches and damaged the boardwalk, which was frustrating to him as the property owner. He said his company has not had a budget for the landscaping to match what MBNA used to spend on bushes and flowers there.
However, he said the hotel project would mean an increased presence along the boardwalk, improving security, though he said there would not be guards patrolling it. The boardwalk would be plowed year-round with the coming of the hotel and benches may be replaced, he said.
One South End resident said she felt like a queen moving to the South End. She said it was a place where she could watch the kids running down to the beach and back, but it was affordable.
"We have a little piece of heaven here and we're a little protective of it," she said.
Smith was asked if his support for improvements to Harbor Park would be based on approval of this project. Smith said the two had nothing to do with each other, but said he plans to help support the Harbor Park improvements.
Some residents thanked Smith for holding the meeting. Tyler Smith said he was happy to see the strong turnout and that it says something for the community that it is vested in its future.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast since 1998.