Planning board meets with developer of $6.5 million inn project

Developer to meet with South End neighbors
By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 12, 2014
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Stuart Smith, left, explains plans for a new $6.5 million, 65-room inn on Rockland Harbor at the planning board meeting Feb. 11. With him are architect John Hansen, center, and William Lane of Gartley & Dorsky Engineering.

Rockland — Businessman Stuart Smith met with the planning board Feb. 11, outlining the benefits of his planned $6.5 million Rockland Harbor Park Inn on Ocean Street, and introducing himself to members of South End neighborhood affected by the project.

Smith said he will meet with neighbors and interested community members Feb. 26 at the former Amalfi in the Boston Financial building at 5:30 p.m. to answer questions about the project.

Smith saw benefits to the plan for a 65-room inn overlooking Rockland Harbor, including continued public access to the waterfront. He said the inn will likely mean improvements to the boardwalk, including more security to prevent vandalism and adding new benches. The boardwalk will remain open to the public as part of the project. In addition, he said people will be welcome to stop at the inn to buy a drink or use the restroom.

One goal in buying local waterfront properties has been to keep them open to the public, Smith said.

"A lot of people looked at the property and said, 'this is a great site for condos, this will make great townhouses, you will make a lot of money if you build these things and sell them off,'" Smith said, speaking for himself and his partners in Rockland Harbor Park, LLC. "That's not kinda how we operate."

He said the partners are usually looking for properties they can develop and manage and keep open to the public.

He also pointed out a financial benefit stemming from the project. The property will generate increased property taxes for the city, and developers will pay a $75,000 impact fee to make sewer infrastructure improvements.

Smith also believes property values in the South End neighborhood will increase as a result of the inn.

Architect John Hansen acknowledged that the proposed design of the building was influenced by the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. The look of the hotel incorporates gables, dormers, cottage roof elements and a cupola.

The inn will be located in a flood zone, and is limited to 40 feet in height, Hansen said. The lowest level of the hotel will be raised 16.5 feet due to the flood zone, and with that, the highest point on the roof is limited to 56.5 feet, except for the cupola, which can be higher as long as it is not an occupied space.

Smith said there is more than enough parking there already to serve the inn. As for traffic, he said the inn will cause less traffic than was planned for MBNA and its 600 employees.

He also anticipates that most guests will stay two to three nights, and take advantage of the boardwalk to walk downtown to restaurants, galleries and activities.

Amy Files of Pleasant Street spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, expressing concerns about the project.

She described herself as one of the new folks coming here, attracted to all of the great things that are going on in town. She said she wants to see thoughtful development that maintains the residential character of the community.

She said the city's comprehensive plan states that projects should be evaluated for potential impact on waterfront views, and that people, including herself, enjoy walking along Ocean Street and enjoying the view of the harbor.

She asked the design be altered to be more inclusive of both the seasonal tourist industry and the year-round neighborhood that surrounds it.

"I can see that as a design right now ...it looks like the building's back is literally turned to the neighborhood behind it," Files said.

The developers said during the meeting, there would still be a significant portion of present parking area along Ocean Street that would have a view of the water, even with the hotel. There would be space between the building and the former MBNA building.

Daycare and fitness center

The partners are actually bringing two separate projects in Rockland Harbor Park Center to the planning board at the same time. The other part of the project, which will be completed first, will be converting the former Amalfi on the Water restaurant, which was located in the bottom floor of the Boston Financial building, into a fitness center and daycare. Those two functions will be administered by a single, nonprofit entity, which will be the partners' tenant, Smith said. He did not name the entity at the meeting, saying its board has not yet finalized the plans.

Though it will be a nonprofit, he stressed the property will still generate real estate taxes for the city.

The developers are asking the planning board to approve the change-of-use. The daycare will serve up to 40 children, and will be open to the public as well as Boston Financial employees. The fitness center will be located in the former dining room and bar area of Amalfi.

The partners hope to have this project completed over the summer and up and running in the fall.

Construction of the inn will be done mostly in the off-season to keep from disrupting area businesses, he said.

Getting to know the developers

The partners in Rockland Harbor Park, LLC are Stuart and Marianne Smith of Camden, Jay and Jean Kislak of Rockport and Florida, and Ellen Simmons. The late Matt Simmons was also a partner. All of them are well known for business and philanthropic work in the Midcoast.

Smith noted that Ellen Simmons just donated the Strand Theatre to a nonprofit group. "That's indicative of what my partners tend to do," he said.

They purchased the former MBNA property in 2007, and it is known as Rockland Harbor Park Center.

Their first goal was to fill up the building and keep it an active office space, Smith said. Most of the people looking at the building were trying to figure out how to do something else like shopping malls, condos, or healthcare operations, he said.

It was built to provide for 600 MBNA employees. Smith said it took a year and a half to find a good tenant in Boston Financial Data Services. The company employs about 260 people in Rockland, and he said that number would be higher if it were not for the 2008 financial meltdown. He expects the company will eventually have 350 employees.

He noted Boston Financial has been a great community supporter, helping local teams and clubs with fundraising events by allowing them to use the parking area in off hours.

Smith also talked about his own family's background. His wife Marianne came to the area in 1968 after graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington. She taught at the Rockland high school for two years. Smith moved to Camden in 1973. They started Maine Sport Outfitters in 1976.

They own Lord Camden Inn and the Grand Harbor Inn, both in Camden.

Smith and partners bought the former Van Baalen's building in Rockland and fully renovated it as the Breakwater Marketplace, which is now about 95 percent occupied, he said.

He and partners built Midcoast Recreation Center in 2000, ran it for 10 years and donated it to a nonprofit group.

Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 122 or ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com.

(Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Comments (13)
Posted by: Susan P Reitman | Feb 14, 2014 20:54

Mr. Isgantis thank you so much for explaining about a property tax increase in reference to the hotel being built.  I hope this hotel can be built because it will give people jobs, generate tax money for the state, and I assume the hotel will have to pay real estate taxes to Rockland.  Now if we could bring higher paying jobs to Rockland like manufacturing, etc.  I just bought an Apple Ipod Nano and the darn thing was shipped directly from the factory in China.  I wish in this area of Maine we had factories like Apple, etc.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Feb 14, 2014 20:46

What may be "positive attitude and sentiment" for some may not be for the rest of us. We are seeing a $4 million dollar tax exempt property being built on Winter Street and the Strand being turned into tax exempt status. Some whom have lived in our homes most of our working lives do not want to be forced out by higher taxes. Many Southenders took a tremendous hit when MBNA paid top prices for their real estate development. I, for one, do not wish to see that happen again.
I agree with Mr. Slabodski : "Some people want to serve the 1%, while others try to feed and house the other 99% of Americans."

 



Posted by: PJ Walter | Feb 14, 2014 17:20

POSTED BY FRANK ISGANITIS.  Amy, you are correct in your quotes of the Comprehensive Plan, but it must be put in the context of what it is, a plan/concept.  Chapter 19 of the Rockland Code is our zoning ordinance and codification of all the relevant standards. The WF-2 zone has a maximum building height of 40 feet from the median elevation from the water to the highest grade.  This project will have to meet that, and I am sure was designed to that standard.  With regard to size, there are floor area ratios, but this is a large parcel.  Yes, the parking seems excessive, but that was Rockland's requirement at the time not MBNA's idea.  The city currently has  three potential development projects under consideration.  I want to ask you and others to let me know what other standards you would like to see implemented in the waterfront zones.  That would likely have to be vetted, drafted and recommended by the Comprehensive Planning Commission.  As to the earlier comment about property values rising in the area, that does not have to mean higher property taxes.  Property Taxes equals Value time Mil Rate.  Higher values and more ratable properties will lower the mil rate and could result in low property taxes per dwelling.



Posted by: Amy Files | Feb 14, 2014 15:46

If you have any questions or concerns, please do make sure to come to both the meeting on the 26th, hosted by Mr. Smith, AS WELL AS contacting your council members and showing up to a council or planning meeting. Keep in mind that Mr. Smith's meeting is not an official town meeting, and it's my understanding that comments/questions voiced at that meeting won't be officially recorded or responded to by the town government. But perhaps someone from Rockland's government can confirm or clarify?

This is privately owned property and so Mr. Smith is of course in his right to develop it. But does that mean that no one should have the right to question the design - height, size, or look? or even the use? Can we all agree that there's a big difference between putting a building up on private property in the middle of the woods and putting a huge 4-story building up in a very public view that we'll all have to look at and live with for years to come? Is it right to allow one man to make such a big decision, on his own, for our whole town of 7,000 plus residents?

Our Comprehensive Plan does specifically list the South End as needing to be protected from new development that blocks water views. This is a legally binding document and the purpose isn't just to protect abutting land owners but to protect all of the residents who enjoy the area and the current views as part of their daily lives here... it is supposed to protect our quality of life.

I hope that we do not make any short-sighted permanent changes that we can't take back. MBNA made great improvements to the area, but putting in a huge parking lot on one of the more valuable views in Rockland probably wasn't one of them... do we want to try and do better?



Posted by: David E Myslabodski | Feb 14, 2014 12:14

If people would read the article before posting . .  .

"Smith also believes property values in the South End neighborhood will increase as a result of the inn."



Posted by: Susan P Reitman | Feb 14, 2014 11:52

Mr. Myslabodsri please explain to me why the neighbors living near to this hotel will have to pay higher taxes.  It seems the rented rooms will generate taxes paid to the State of Maine and the hotel will pay property taxes to the City of Rockland.



Posted by: PJ Walter | Feb 14, 2014 11:49

POSTED BY FRANK ISGANITIS.  For absolute clarity, I am asking the public to consider all the positive that has come to our community as a result of the improvements that exist today. I am not asking for the development to receive special treatment in any way.  This project will and should be vetted by all the appropriate standards and review process that exists today.



Posted by: David E Myslabodski | Feb 14, 2014 10:53

RE: "unjust demands on PRIVATE PROPERTY."  Last time I checked around, owning property does NOT give you the right to do whatever you want. Heck! Why not build a whore-house on top of a crack-house? Remember that there were plans for the property on Maverick St? Guess what? The neighbors got together and we still have a laundromat.

MBNA [Charlie C] worked with and not against the neighbors in the South-end. So now the same neighbors must be thankful for having a large building blocking their view and  having to pay higher taxes!!!

Some people want to serve the 1%, while others try to feed and house the other 99% of Americans

 



Posted by: Susan P Reitman | Feb 14, 2014 10:29

I live in Rockland within walking distance of where this hotel will be built [if it allowed to be built].  Anyway if the hotel is built I am going to treat myself and book a room there, facing the water, for one night.  I hope the rooms have jetted tubs because I would love to be pampered!!!



Posted by: PJ Walter | Feb 14, 2014 09:48

POST BY FRANK ISGANITIS.  Just once, I wish all these posts reflected a positive attitude and sentiment, and not one of unjust demands on PRIVATE PROPERTY.  What I mean to say is that 15 years ago when a manufacturer owned this land located on our waterfront, I don’t think any citizen would have dared or cared to walk along the waterfront in Shag Rock Cove.  Thank you Mr. Cawley and MBNA for believing in our community and for your incredible contribution to revitalize this property and create what Downeast magazine refers to as “Maine’s most beautiful ocean walk”.  Thank you Tom Hall (former City Manager), Bob Hastings (former Chamber Executive), Stuart Smith and Rockland Harbor Park LLC for negotiating and creating an easement upon the acquisition of the property that created long term PUBLIC ACCESS to the waterfront.  Please let us know if there is ever anything that Rockland can do for you as an expression of our gratitude.  Finally, thank you to all the principals of Rockland Harbor Park LLC for affirming your commitment to our community with another $6.5 million investment in what appears to be a beautiful luxury waterfront hotel.  It may take some getting used to, but it also took some time getting used to walking on the beautiful boardwalk when it first opened.  But, we got used to it.



Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | Feb 13, 2014 21:27

What will be the setback from the water?  Will the Smiths require any future owners to allow a right of way for the public to use the Boardwalk?  If this development eventually turns into condo development (the Smiths like the rest of us will not live forever), could not future owners refuse public access based upon the recent ruling by the Maine Supreme Court  on Goose Rocks Beach?



Posted by: Gayle Murphy | Feb 13, 2014 09:51

Yes we are . . . but why do I feel like the city is going to find a way to screw this up, just like they did the Samoset's planned expansion, pier project, etc., several years ago?  Get it done.



Posted by: Sumner Kinney | Feb 13, 2014 08:58

We are really fortunate that Stuart Smith and his partners in this area. 

 



If you wish to comment, please login.

Staff Profile

Dan Dunkle
Editor
207 594-4401 ext. 122
Email Me

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 for 15 years.

 

Recent Stories by Dan Dunkle