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So far, zoning board votes favor Planning Board, hotel project

By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 08, 2021
A screen shot of the online Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Jan. 6 in Rockport.

Rockport — In its Jan. 6 meeting, the Zoning Board of Appeals took several votes finding that the Planning Board did not err in its various decisions while considering the proposed downtown hotel project.

A group of 13 residents filed an appeal, arguing the Planning Board should not have approved the 26-room hotel proposed by Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith at 20 Central Street.

The closest the zoning board has come to agreeing with the opponents has been in considering whether the hotel meets the town’s parking requirements and whether the Planning Board should have required landscaping and other improvements to the satellite parking area at Hoboken. The hotel developers plan to use valets to bring hotel customer vehicles to the gravel lot on Commercial Street (Route 1) next to the greenhouses on the Hoboken property.

Part of the discussion has centered around whether that was an existing parking lot as the Planning Board had found. If it was not considered an existing lot, it would need a landscaping plan.

In a previous meeting, the zoning board voted 3-3 on a motion that the Planning Board erred in finding it was an existing lot. Since the vote was tied, the motion did not carry.

Board member Kevin Olehnik said at the Jan. 6 meeting, however, that he had a problem with the fact that two members of the Planning Board brought up the issue of landscaping and then the Planning Board Chair said it was an existing lot and shut the discussion down. “It should have been explored,” he said. “It’s a gotcha type of thing. Maybe they got away with it, but someone is looking now.” He said that is like a situation where the town decides to increase the tax assessment on a house after finding out it has been improved. He also argued it would be easy to fix and not costly for the developer to remedy the situation.

Zoning Board member Terri Mackenzie said the present owners of that lot could park 35 cars there now, so it exists as a parking lot. She also said the parking lot came before the zoning board and was identified as available parking.

Olehnik responded, saying, “We OK’d offsite parking.” He said the zoning board did not get into whether it was a gravel lot or beautiful, etc.

Other members also questioned whether the fact that this was a change of use triggered the need for more scrutiny of the landscaping.

The zoning board voted 4-2 Jan. 6 to find the Planning Board did not err in not requiring the landscaping plan. Olehnik and Chair Geoff Parker opposed the motion.

The board also voted unanimously that the Planning Board did not err in finding the hotel was visually harmonious with the surrounding community in terms of architecture.

The zoning board voted unanimously to find the Planning Boad did not err concerning the issue of the scenic view.

Those appealing the project argue the hotel will eliminate a scenic view of the harbor. The lot is located in between two downtown buildings and once was the site of a building itself, though with a space providing some of the existing view.

The zoning board found that the Planning Board discussed and examined this issue enough to make its determination. Mackenzie said some would hold the view that it was an eyesore to have vacant lot there, forming a gap between the buildings downtown.

The zoning board found the Planning Board did not err on other issues including noise, lighting, nuisance and traffic. The zoning board was not necessarily agreeing with the Planning Board decisions themselves, but found that the Planning Board had the evidence and discussions needed to make a reasonable decision on these matters and did not err.

The board’s work is still not done, however. The attorney for the zoning board will draft findings of fact and get that draft to members by Jan. 18.

The board plans to meet again Thursday, Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. to finalize findings of fact and finish its work.

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