The Zoning Board of Appeals talked about parking requirements for more than four hours Tuesday night, Dec. 1 as it continued to consider the appeal of a group of residents opposing the Smith family’s plans to build a 26-room hotel at 20 Central St.

A group of 13 residents have filed an appeal of the Planning Board’s approval of the project arguing it will destroy a view of the harbor and that it fails to meet the town’s parking requirements.

The Zoning Board held its second meeting on this issue, the first having been a five-hour meeting on Nov. 17.

In two votes at this second meeting, the board upheld the Planning Board’s decisions. It voted 6-0 that the Planning Board did not err in using a 2009 parking study and 6-0 again that the Planning Board did not err in finding that there was a sufficient number of parking spaces for the project. Kim Graffam abstained.

On each of board’s votes, it was being asked whether the Planning Board demonstrated an error of law, abused its discretion, or made findings unsupported by evidence.

The board, however, split 3 to 3 on the question of whether the Planning Board “erred in its determination that the Hoboken Lot was an existing parking lot, given that there was not substantial evidence on the record to support such a conclusion.”

The argument here focused on the plan to use valets to bring hotel customer vehicles to the gravel lot on Commercial Street (Route 1) next to the greenhouses on the Hoboken property. There was discussion of whether a parking lot has previously existed on that site. If it is an existing lot, the requirements are not as strict because it is not a change of use.

David Cockey of the Zoning Board argued the evidence was weak for the Planning Board to determine this was an existing parking lot.

Terri MacKenzie, who is now on the Zoning Board and a former member of the Planning Board, argued there was a lease agreement on the record concerning the use of those spaces dedicated to the hotel customers. She believed there was sufficient evidence to determine it was an existing parking lot.

There was also a question of whether the Planning Board could have simply determined it was obvious it was a parking lot.

Cockey, Kevin Olehnick and Max MacCoole voted “yes” on a motion that the Planning Board erred in finding the Hoboken Lot was an existing lot. MacKenzie, Tom Kennedy and Chair Geoffrey Parker voted “no.” Kim Graffam abstained.

Since the vote was split, the motion failed.

An attorney representing the Hotel developers argued that this means the Planning Board decision stands in this matter.

It was the Zoning Board of Appeals that in January approved a request to meet off-street parking standards for the proposed hotel with off-site spaces at the former Hoboken Gardens site. This complicates the appeal process since the board does not have authority to review its own decisions.

The Zoning Board after reaching this split vote was working on a new motion about whether the Planning Board erred in not requiring a landscaping plan for the Hoboken Gardens lot, which would not be required if there was no change of use. However, the hour was growing late, past 10 p.m., and Parker noted there was enough disagreement on the issue to merit members of the board reviewing evidence from the videos of the Planning Board meetings at the beginning of the next meeting.

The Zoning Board plans to continue discussion of the appeal Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 6:30 p.m.

20 Central St., LLC., owned by Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith, originally proposed a 36-room hotel for the space between two buildings next to 18 Central Oyster Bar in downtown Rockport. After hearing opposition to the plan, they removed a floor from the building design and reduced it to 26 rooms.

They own the neighboring properties on Central Street.

It is being appealed and opposed by David Barry; Lisa Breheny; Katie Grealish; David Kantor; Michael Hampton; George and Eliza Haselton; John Priestley; Kimberly and Rex Rehmeyer; Mark Schwarzmann; Craig Sweeny, and Winston Whitney.

Gartley & Dorsky submitted plans for the project in February including discussion of parking.

That plan quotes the town ordinance, saying, “The Planning Board may, at its sole discretion, increase or decrease the above parking requirements depending upon individual applicant circumstances. An applicant requesting a deviation from the above standards must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Planning Board that the request is appropriate to the planned use.”

It also stated, “20 Central Street, LLC is well aware that its success is dependent on customers having access to their new building along with their existing buildings and tenants. As such, they will utilize strategies such as off-site parking for employees, valet parking, and shuttles for special events similar to other such establishments in neighboring towns and cities that have vibrant Downtown and Village areas. Based on the combination of the 45 spaces available at the approved off-site parking area, and the use of the 21 parking spaces available on site, we have met the parking requirement for the proposed project.”

Objections to this plan have delved in detail into technical questions concerning whether some of the parking spaces to be used are part of the same property, constitute shared parking with other entities, or are existing parking lots or new to that usage.

There have also been arguments back and forth about the view. Opponents believe the view between the buildings has been there a long time and should be protected. Advocates for the hotel argue there was a building in that space with only a small alley of that existing view up until the 1970s. It is also a question of who that view affects since some of the opponents are not near enough to the hotel site to even see it from their property.

The process has been slow because there are four lawyers involved, and the board has been working to be sure they are using the correct legal verbiage and carrying out their specific mandate according to the law. Attorney Leah Rachin has been guiding the Zoning Board through the process. Attorney Kristin Collins of PretiFlaherty represents those appealing the hotel project. Philip Saucier, the town attorney, represents the Planning Board. Attorney Sarah Gilbert of Camden Law represents the developers.

Whatever decision the Zoning Board makes is likely to be appealed in court by the losing party.

filed under: