ROCKPORT — The Board of Directors of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce issued a statement Jan. 14 expressing “strong support for the development of the Rockport Harbor Hotel by the Smith family in its current plan and format.”

The statement was submitted in a press release from chamber President and CEO Thomas Peaco.

“The Chamber Board is deeply troubled that the actions of a few have called into question this first-class project in Rockport Village, and have cost the developers and the Town of Rockport hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend their actions,” Peaco said. “The Smith family has been very engaged with the Town of Rockport and responsive to reasonable concerns raised by adjusting plans for their project.”

Construction is underway for a 26-room hotel in the village, a project brought to the town by developers Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith. They reduced the number of rooms from the 35 originally planned to 26 in response to concerns from residents.

The Planning Board approved the project in February 2020.

Neighbors John Priestley, Mark Schwarzmann, David Barry and Winston Whitney — calling themselves Friends of Rockport — appealed the Planning Board approval of the project, arguing it would block the scenic view and worsen the downtown parking shortage.

The Chamber Board argues: “The Rockport Planning Board has properly reviewed and permitted the project, and that decision was confirmed by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The continued unwarranted legal challenges by a handful of people are a significant financial and time burden for the Town of Rockport and the Smith family, and send a chilling message to other business and developers who might consider bringing positive economic development opportunities to Rockport and our region.”

Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke said in previous comments the legal costs for the town have reached $120,000.

“This has been a costly endeavor to support our town boards and ordinances,” Duke said.

“We welcome responsible economic development projects such as Rockport Harbor Hotel, and commend the developers for continuing to create jobs, add to our local tax base, and enhance our communities,” the Chamber statement concludes.

Attorney Kristin Collins offered this response from the appellants: “It is unfortunate that Friends of Rockport and the Village residents who have spearheaded these challenges are being vilified, when the court has agreed on almost every claim that the town did not appropriately review this project. In fact, Friends’ mission and Rockport’s Land Use Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan are intended to ensure that new development is consistent with the village’s historic architecture, beautiful harbor, and scenic views. Rockport residents voted to limit the size of the hotel because they treasure these qualities. They also voted to require a parking study.  Most of the legal fees the town has expended have been to overturn the will of its own voters. Rockport residents have only ever wanted to ensure that the hotel doesn’t exacerbate an already bad parking situation, that it is designed in keeping with this historic block, and that it preserves views of the harbor that have been in place for well over 100 years. This is good for business and good for the community.”

A state judge vacated Monday, Jan. 3 the building permit issued for a nearly completed hotel.

“The court reverses the approval of 20 Central Street’s building permit by the Code Enforcement Officer and its approval de novo by the Zoning Board of Appeals and vacates the building permit. The application is remanded to the Code Enforcement Officer for action following the further review by the Planning Board in response to the judgment,” Justice Bruce Mallonee stated in the ruling.

Mallonee ruled on Dec. 2 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.

Mallonee stated in his Dec. 3 ruling 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 it is shared with other businesses and the public.

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