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Judge rejects temporary halt to Rockport hotel construction

By Stephen Betts | Apr 24, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts Construction can continue on the hotel in downtown Rockport.

Rockport — A state judge rejected April 22 issuing a temporary restraining order to halt construction of a hotel in Rockport village.

Justice Bruce Mallonee's ruling, however, calls for the issues raised by the parties to continue to be heard by the court. (The full ruling can be viewed at the bottom of this article).

Justice Mallonee said in his ruling that he rejected the request for a temporary restraining order because the neighbors did not show they were more likely than not to win the case.

"In the court's view, the public interest would be served by a halt to construction pending final evaluation of the issues raised in these two cases," Justice Mallonee stated.

The judge said the hotel's continued construction will change the reality a court will face if the plaintiffs win their case, and the court needs to consider a remedy.

"That concern has been, if anything, amplified by 20 Central's continued construction in the last two and a half months," the judge stated.

But, he said for a temporary restraining order to be issued, the neighbors have to prove a strong likelihood of winning the overall case.

Neighbors John Priestley, Mark Schwarzmann, David Barry and Winston Whitney filed the appeal to the court over the town's approval of the 2020 Central Street LLC hotel at 20 Central St.

The neighbors argued the temporary restraining order is needed to prevent irreparable harm, that the harm would outweigh any harm to the hotel developer, that the neighbors are likely to be successful in their overall appeal and that the public interest will not be adversely affected by granting the injunction.

Attorney Andre Duchette told Justice Mallonee at a March 30 hearing that an earlier restraining order, issued by the judge Jan. 8 but later removed following a hearing, cost the hotel developer two weeks. He said granting a temporary restraining order now that the building permit has been issued would cost the developer more money and time.

He also voiced concern that any temporary order could last for a long time because of the amount of litigation that neighbors have already filed.

The neighbors contend in the court appeal that the Planning Board failed to properly apply several standards in the town's land use ordinance. Those errors, according to the lawsuit, are not protecting the scenic view from the main road; a parking deficit downtown was not considered; and the board did not find there would be no nuisances from the hotel in terms of lighting and noise.

The Planning Board approved the 26-room hotel proposed by Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith at 20 Central St. at a Feb. 27, 2020, meeting. The number of rooms had been reduced from the originally proposed 35 to 26 due to public input. Residents, however, launched a petition drive to further restrict the hotel.

The neighbors have asked the court to determine whether the hotel must adhere to two new ordinances — approved by voters at an Aug. 18, 2020, town meeting. One of those set a cap of 20 rooms. The ordinances would have been retroactive to before the Planning Board approval.

Justice Mallonee pointed out the complexity of the case because the citizens' petition drive to amend town ordinances had been scheduled for the regular June town meeting vote but was postponed because of government-imposed precautions against the spread of COVID-19.

The delay exceeded the 45-day period for the town to amend the Planning Board's approval.

The Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the neighbors appeal at a Jan. 21, 2021, meeting.

The town issued a building permit March 10.

Site work at the property began in October.

The Smiths received a building permit on March 10. "We have been working on forming/pouring of the foundation, column footers as well as erecting the stair/elevator towers," Tyler Smith said. "The goal is to get the front wall complete to allow for the sidewalk to be repoured prior to the summer season going full swing. Following concrete work (which should be completed in a couple of weeks) we will be erecting the primary steel structure." (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
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