A long-awaited court ruling on a 26-room hotel in downtown Rockport will require the developers to go back before the town Planning Board on the issue of parking and whether the architectural design is in harmony with the village.

Justice Bruce Mallonee also ruled in Dec. 2 orders that the two petition-driven ordinance changes approved by voters in August 2020 must apply to the new hotel. One of those two new town laws set a cap of 20 rooms. The other requires an independent study be conducted to approve offsite and shared parking.

The judge said the “precise scope and elements of that relief will be addressed at a future hearing to be scheduled forthwith.” A date for that hearing had not been set as of Friday morning.

Mallonee has been considering the decisions since a hearing was held Oct. 4.

Attorney Kristin Collins, who represents the Friends of Rockport who filed the court appeal, said “The Friends of Rockport are grateful to Justice Mallonee for his thoughtful and balanced consideration of the important issues involved in this case.”

Collins said she would ask the judge at the future hearing to impose an injunction on further work.

Stuart Smith, one of the developers of the 20 Central St. hotel, said construction will continue. Smith said he is happy with how the building has turned out and that 99 percent of the people who walk by like how it looks.

Smith said appeals are likely depending on what occurs at the court hearing that could be held later this month. One issue expected to be a point of appeal is when the project was vested with its approval and be affected by any later changes to town laws.

The Planning Board approved the project in February 2020. The town meeting vote that approved the new ordinances had been delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

An appeal of the judge’s ruling would have to go the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. An appeal could take a year or more to be heard and decided on the state high court justices.

Smith said if a final ruling ordered the rooms to be reduced to 20, that could be done but that the building was constructed based on a financial model of 26 rooms.

Justice Mallonee stated in his ruling that the Planning Board must reconvene and consider whether the balconies are in harmony with the architecture of the downtown. In addition, the judge said the Planning Board must review the parking waiver granted years ago to the nearby Union Hall and to look at the Sandy’s Way parking lot to determine the extent that it is shared with other businesses and the public.

Smith said the brick and granite used on the building are Maine sourced to match harmoniously with the adjacent buildings and to look like the building has been here for 150 years. In addition, he said there is a handicapped accessible granite walkway providing access to both the hotel and to the 18 Central St. building which prior to the hotel being built did not have ADA compliant access from Central Street, Smith noted.

Neighbors John Priestley, Mark Schwarzmann, David Barry and Winston Whitney — calling themselves Friends of Rockport — appealed the Planning Board approval of the project, arguing  that it would get rid of the scenic view and worsen the downtown parking shortage. The neighbors led the petition drive that led to approval of the town new town ordinances.

Developers Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith reduced the number of rooms from the original 35 to the 26 now being built.

Stuart Smith said there was never any dedicated parking for Union Hall as argued by the opponents.

Collins said, however, in a statement Dec. 3 that Friends of Rockport has long held that all of the current parking spaces in Rockport have been allocated to prior uses, and that the Planning Board erred in assuming that 25 spaces were available for the hotel.

She said judge will address what remedy is appropriate, given the fact that the building permit for the hotel – now well under construction – should not have been issued. When asked if the court could order the hotel to be removed, Collins said if the project is reduced to 20 rooms that is not the project approved by the Planning Board and the entire project would need to go back from the start.

Justice Mallonee warned the hotel developer on more than one occasion in earlier rulings that it was taking a risk to continue with construction while the appeal was pending.