Bar Harbor hotel firm changes parking deck plans

Painters put the finishing touches on the eastern end of the West Street Hotel in downtown Bar Harbor on Saturday, May 19, 2012. Ocean Properties, which owns the hotel, is scrapping plans to build a parking deck along Rodick Street but hopes to work out an agreement to build one on town-owned land directly behind the hotel. The firm hopes to open the hotel, which has been under construction for nearly two years, next month for its inaugural season.
Painters put the finishing touches on the eastern end of the West Street Hotel in downtown Bar Harbor on Saturday, May 19, 2012. Ocean Properties, which owns the hotel, is scrapping plans to build a parking deck along Rodick Street but hopes to work out an agreement to build one on town-owned land directly behind the hotel. The firm hopes to open the hotel, which has been under construction for nearly two years, next month for its inaugural season.
Posted May 19, 2012, at 12:23 p.m.
Last modified May 19, 2012, at 1:59 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Ocean Properties is scrapping plans to build a multilevel parking deck on land it owns on the east side of lower Rodick Street and, as a result, plans to have fewer rooms at its unopened West Street Hotel than it had planned.

Instead, the company plans to put in a 70-space, ground-level parking lot on the property, which is about an acre and a half in size.

Representatives of the resort lodging firm, including company founder Thomas Walsh, appeared before the local planning board Wednesday night to get approval for the changes. After a few minutes of discussion about parking and access past the hotel to rear entrances of other nearby businesses, the changes were approved by a 3-0 vote.

Eben Salvatore, director of operations for the company on Mount Desert Island, said after the hearing that the company is scrapping its plans to build its own parking deck along Rodick Street because it is optimistic it can work out an agreement to build a parking deck on town-owned land directly behind the hotel. The “backyard” lot now has 42 public parking spaces that are easily accessible to nearby businesses on Main, Cottage and West streets, he said, but if a parking deck were built on the town property, as many as 300 parking spaces could be built on the same footprint.

Salvatore said a mediator has talked to town officials and to nearby business owners, many of whom use the backyard lot either for parking or for receiving deliveries, and has made headway in getting agreement from the various stakeholders to support the concept of building a parking deck on the lot.

There are many ways such a parking deck could be configured, he said, and maintaining access to adjacent businesses by delivery trucks and emergency response vehicles would be a component of any configuration that is pursued. Whether an agreement can be worked out depends on undetermined details, he added.

Salvatore said a parking deck on the town-owned lot would benefit everybody by significantly boosting the amount of public parking available in downtown Bar Harbor. Ocean Properties, he added, would like to find a better use than a parking lot for the land it owns on the east side of lower Rodick Street.

The company is not interested in putting more hotel rooms on that part of the property — which would require still more parking — but likely would consider building retail space or maybe residential houses, Salvatore said.

A decision on how that land might be developed depends on whether the backyard parking deck plan moves forward.

“We recognize the need for parking to operate the hotel properly,” Salvatore said.

One local resident encouraged town officials at the Wednesday night meeting to work with Ocean Properties in developing the parking deck on the backyard lot.

“I seriously don’t think the town will ever build a parking garage,” Ivan Rasmussen told the planning board.

If the hotel firm builds a parking deck that is accessible to the public, he added, it would be “a great benefit” to the town.

By scrapping plans to build a two-tier parking deck on Rodick Street and putting in a simple parking lot there instead, the hotel is reducing the number of parking spaces it has on-site and so has to reduce the number of rooms available in the hotel.

Salvatore said the hotel property will have 70 parking spaces and, because of landscaped green space on the property, will get credit for 15 more.

Under the town’s ordinance, that means it can fill a maximum of 85 rooms in the hotel.

Ocean Properties had announced that it planned to have 102 guest rooms in the $12 million, four-story hotel, which is expected to be completed this summer. To reduce the number of separate rooms that are available in the nearly completed hotel, workers are covering up doorways that connect the rooms to hallways and instead are putting in doorways between rooms, creating suites, Salvatore said.

The rooms could be reconfigured at a later date, provided that an agreement is reached on building a parking deck on the town property and that the planning board then approves of the increase in separately rented rooms.

“We’re still shooting for mid-June,” he said of when the company hopes to open the hotel for business.

Ocean Properties pieced the land together for the hotel over several years and has spent the past three years getting approval for the project and then constructing it. During that time, the project initially was rejected by the local planning board and has faced a legal challenge from a rival hotelier.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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