ROCKPORT — The Friends of Rockport and John Priestley filed an appeal to the town Zoning Board on Tuesday, April 26 arguing the town Code Enforcement Officer should not have issued a building permit for the continued construction of the hotel in Rockport Village.

The application for the appeal does not automatically mean work has to shut down on the hotel project. It can continue until the Zoning Board makes a ruling, which may then affect the project.

The exterior of the Rockport Harbor Hotel being built by 20 Central Street, LLC., is mostly completed, and crews have been at work on the interior of the building. The developers of this project are Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith.

The project has faced steep opposition from the group of Rockport residents calling themselves the Friends of Rockport, including previous appeals to the Zoning Board and court actions. Town government has spent more than $147,000 for legal fees to provide attorneys to represent the town and its boards in the matter so far.

“Our legal costs are directly related to the town’s responsibility to support the decisions made by our Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Code Officer,” Town Manager Jon Duke said. “Without the town being engaged in supporting our boards and staff, not only would this cause a free-for-all where any permit or approval can be overturned and limit the role Rockport residents have in establishing land use roles for our community. Unfortunately state law does not provide municipalities the ability to recoup our court costs from even the most frivolous of cases so the cost for Rockport’s taxpayers is incredibly high to assert our authority over land use development.”

The costs are not just in money, but also town volunteers.

Thomas Kennedy resigned from the Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals on March 23, saying in his letter, “The ultimate reason for my decision is the time commitment that it has turned into, specifically regarding the 20 Central LLC hotel project. This project has been brought to the board of appeals multiple times at this point and is coming before the ZBA again after the recent reapproval from the town Planning Board. In fairness to all parties, I feel I can no longer be unbiased, and quite frankly I am extremely disgusted at the amount of time and money this process has wasted for the entire town of Rockport. It is very discouraging to sit through multiple four plus hour meetings, as a volunteer, and watch the paid individuals continue to argue the same issues over and over, while our town and the people of Rockport ultimately suffer the consequences. I would like to commend you, and all the other board members, for staying the process and their terms of service.”

The Friends are represented by attorney Kristin Collins of Preti Flaherty.

The appeal makes several arguments, including the following:

“The Code Enforcement Officer cannot have issued the building permit for this project because it is not in conformance with the May 2020 site plan approval. Site plan amendment was required to change the number of guest rooms from 26 to 20 as this materially impacts the review standards as applied to the prior-issued permit.”

The appeal argues the Planning Board needs to review the traffic and parking study, under the ordinance, and that the town did not meet that standard by having the Code Enforcement Officer review it.

Another argument is that the ordinance requires an “independent” traffic study.

“The Gorrill Palmer traffic study was not independent as Gorrill Palmer regularly works with Gartley & Dorsky and the 20 Central Street LLC principals,” the appeal document says.

It goes on to argue the code officer erred in failing to apply parking standards and by not addressing concerns in the Gorrill Palmer traffic study. Specifically, the Friends argue the study found the valet parking could cause safety concerns. This information is in the same study the Friends argue does not meet the standard of being “independent” and so does not meet the requirement of having a study.

The Friends also argue the code officer failed to apply the ordinance in terms of protecting scenic views. “Despite the reduction of rooms from the original 34 room proposal to the current 20 room proposal, the ground level footprint of the structure remains unchanged and there is no evidence of any review of alternative designs by the Code Enforcement Officer.”

Rockport Harbor Hotel under construction in Rockport Village. Courtesy of the Town of Rockport and Bayview Management