ROCKPORT — Prompted by a judge’s order in the ongoing dispute over the Rockport Harbor Hotel under construction in Rockport Village, the Planning Board once again discussed Jan. 27 whether the new building fits in architecturally with its neighbors and whether it meets parking requirements.

It will vote on these issues Feb. 3 after findings of fact have been generated, but in two straw polls taken Jan. 27, the board voted 4-0 to find the hotel meets the requirements.

The two issues were remanded back to the board by Justice Bruce Mallonee after a group of Rockport residents filed an appeal of the town’s approval of the project.

Representing the appellants, attorney Kristin Collins of PretiFlaherty said the board should put the brakes on the process. She argued the application for the hotel was not ready for this process, saying no new plans reflecting the court order had been submitted to the board. Specifically, she argues a new application should be made reducing the number of hotel rooms from 26 to 20 to meet the town’s new ordinance and the judge’s order that this project conform to that.

Stuart Smith, who is building the hotel along with his son Tyler Smith and wife, Marianne, said at a recent open house at the hotel that his plan to accommodate the town’s limit of 20 rooms is to combine some of the rooms he had originally planned for a 26-room hotel, making them suites.

Collins argued that the Planning Board’s Jan. 26 site walk at the hotel gave it an “awfully unfair advantage over what was in front of the board” in 2020. She said the board was not supposed to make this decision based on new evidence, and the site walk constituted new evidence.

She argued a parking study is needed to determine if the hotel meets those requirements, adding that the appellants had a parking study done that found a 133-space deficit. She argued the lot behind the buildings did not meet the requirements because it was shared with other entities including Union Hall and Shepherd Block.

Another large portion of the discussion focused on whether the hotel is architecturally harmonious with the surrounding historic village. Collins said the numerous decks on the front of the hotel, the balconies and large windows at the back and the arches and pillars were not congruous with the surrounding buildings.

“This building sticks out like a sore thumb,” she said.

She called for having the developers come back with a new proposal for a 20-room hotel.

“The fact that the hotel has been built and you feel bad for them does not come into play,” she said.

Tyler Smith, representing 20 Central Street, LLC., which is the official name of the company building the hotel, argued the original information and application is more than enough for the board to make its decision on the remand.

He said the balconies had been discussed and considered by the board in 2019 and that there are decks and balconies on 80 percent of the buildings in the neighborhood of the hotel.

Planning Board Vice Chair John Viehman said he does not see how anyone could look at the hotel and not see that it is harmonious with the neighboring structures. He said one of the appellants, an architect across the street, has a balcony on his building.

Planning Board members said the ordinance does not require new buildings to match others exactly. The buildings can be different as long as they fit in using similar materials and colors. One member argued the harmony was evident in the use of brick and granite, which are the dominant materials in the neighboring structures.

Chair Joe Sternowski said the balconies blend in due to the way they are designed.

Other elements of the new hotel that fit the village include the type of roof and the dormers, according to board members.

In looking at the parking issue, the board reviewed decisions made on projects involving the Sandy’s Way parking lot going back to 2008 and 2012. They argued the parking lot is not heavily used currently.

Each of the parties in the dispute — Collins and Tyler Smith — were given 15 minutes to make arguments at the beginning of the meeting. No public comment was allowed.

Town documents attached to the meeting include numerous letters from interested parties concerning the project.

The next step will be for the Planning Board’s attorney to draft findings of fact and the board will take official votes on the matter in a special meeting scheduled for Feb. 3 at 5:30 p.m. The meeting was held online, due to the ongoing pandemic. Check the town website, Rockportmaine.gov, for links to views meetings.

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