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Rockport Select Board chair blasts citizens petition to reduce hotel size

By Jackson Long | Jul 29, 2020
Photo by: Jackson Long Pictured is Chair of the Select Board, Debra Hall.

Rockport — A July 27 public hearing brought out rancorous disagreement between members of the public and the Select Board chairwoman on citizen petitions going to voters August 18 aiming to reduce the size of a 26-room hotel planned for the heart of downtown Rockport.

Public Hearing

Clare Tully of Rockport spoke for the two citizens' petitions that are to be voted on at the town meeting on Aug. 18.

The first petition aims to reduce the number of rooms a hotel may have in the downtown area to 20. The second petition would require that an independent traffic study be conducted to approve offsite and shared parking. The study would be paid for by the applicant.

Tully addressed an anonymous brochure that was sent to Rockport residents.

"An anonymous postcard went out earlier this week which unfortunately said some false things and one of them was that this was a private petition. It is not a private petition. It is a citizens petition signed by over 325 registered voters in the town of Rockport from all five neighborhoods and from all demographics, bipartisan, etc. and it is about having the hotel be twenty rooms, which is what the developer originally proposed," she said.

Tully also addressed the second citizen's petitions asserting that there is "overwhelming support for this throughout the town."

"Citizens petitions are one of the five freedoms under the first amendment," she said. "It really is unfortunate that we've had this characterized by members of your board as offensive and unjust, but it is legal, and it's something that we felt we needed to do in order to ensure that our ordinances are not just disregarded in a rush to develop."

Tully also made the claim that the hotel size isn't what was promised.

Stuart Smith, one of the hotel owners, denied Tully's claim.

"We've never talked about a 20-room hotel. Our very first plan had 36 rooms, and we had an extra floor that we've taken out completely," Smith said.

Debra Hall, Select Board Chairwoman responded to Tully's statement about the board's characterization of the petition. Hall explained that it was not the act of citizen's petitions that troubled the board but instead what the matters were.

"It is really offensive to me, and I will reiterate the idea that an ordinance can be passed allowing for a hotel, and that someone can purchase property with those ordinances in mind, and that they then go through the planning board and ZBA process by a group of volunteers that spent a lot of time going through all of the various arguments on either side including those of Miss Tully's, and then to have another bite at the apple to go in and after the fact retroactively make what was approved by the planning board and the ZBA illegal. That is offensive to me; it continues to be offensive to me; it will always be offensive to me," Hall said.

Board member Denise Munger said, "I responded to assertions that Miss Tully made on some of the land-use ordinances that the ordinance review committee worked hard on all year to develop, and despite what I thought were clarifications so that she could appreciate where we were coming from and the purpose of those she continues to iterate and misrepresent what the effect of those ordinances would be."

Town Managers Report

Town Manager Bill Post provided updates on projects and hiring at the July 27 Select Board meeting.

Fran Hodgkins has been hired as planning board secretary, and will attend meetings and draft minutes. By hiring Hodgkins, the planning board secretary's responsibilities have been lifted from Administrative Assistant Mandy Marriner-Everett, who had taken on the role on top of her other duties.

Plans for the Wastewater extension project are almost completed. Engineers only need to add the water line designs to the plans. Finalizing landowner agreements for the location of two pump stations and obtaining the highway permit also remain. The bid for the project is expected to go out Sept. 1.

Municipal Budget

Discussed at the meeting was the proposed municipal budget that is up for a vote on Aug. 18. The budget is divided into nine different articles. The total budget is $4,439,544. Revenue to offset the amount to be raised in property tax totals $2,678,047.

Potential Fireworks Ban

At the polls Aug. 18, voters will see a non-binding referendum on banning fireworks in the town of Rockport (Article 15). If the article is supported, an ordinance would be drafted banning the use of consumer fireworks and sent to voters at a future election. If the article is not supported, the fireworks laws will remain the same.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Debra J Hall | Aug 03, 2020 08:59

The voters approved 40 hotel rooms in the downtown district of Rockport in June 2017 by an overwhelming majority of 729 to 308. Stuart Smith reduced the number of rooms from that which he originally proposed to 26, well within what the voters approved and the project was unanimously approved by the Planning Board. These are the salient facts. While past Planning Boards often waived parking requirements for the downtown district, this Planning Board chose not to and required that Stuart Smith provide all parking he was required which includes some off-site parking unanimously approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Now a small group of advocates behind the petition for Article 4 have are trying to overturn the will of those voters and the unanimous decisions of the Planning Board and ZBA whom we entrust to decide these matters on behalf of the Town. While they claim in their recent mailers that Article 4 (reducing the hotel max from 26 to 20 rooms)  would reduce the size of the hotel - it does not. The developer is free to simply make the 20 rooms larger and  not change the overall size of the hotel. While the advocates behind the mailers and behind Article 4 claim that this retroactive reduction by 6 rooms will maintain more parking space in the downtown -- what they don't tell you is that they own "unhosted" short term rentals right around the corner, with several others that take up at least this amount of parking space in the downtown district. While the hotel was required to comply with parking requirements -- these short term rental owners had to meet zero parking requirements or any other regulatory or Planning Board requirements. The purpose of our laws is to regulate behavior. When one property owner complies with those laws, overcomes the arguments of their objectors and the decision makers rule in favor of the property owner -- the voters should not overturn that process and result. This removes the certainty of our ordinances for property owners, for developers and for us as residents. It is sending a message that Rockport is not open for business and that your neighbors can undo that which you have complied with the law to have approved.  Debra Hall, Rockport Select Board Chair

Posted by: Kathie Grealish | Jul 29, 2020 15:34

Stuart Smith did in fact promise originally 20-22 rooms as seen on the link below from the 04/18/2017 Planning Board meeting live (fast forward 31 minutes into it):

(Along with another participant stating "with this new permitted use, the Planning Board has a VERY wide discretion to waive any parking that may go with it").

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