ROCKPORT, Maine ― Voters here will decide on Tuesday the fate of a proposed 27,000-square-foot hotel after more than 300 residents signed petitions criticizing the downtown development.
Some fear the building ― which rises four stories above street level ― could obstruct views of the harbor and create traffic congestion in the area.
The petitions have caused tension between Friends of Rockport, which initiated them to help preserve the historic downtown, and town officials who say they could thwart plans already approved by planners.
In a letter, Rockport Selectboard members called the petitions “offensive [and] insulting to the hard work of the planning board.” They said the petitions also are “unjust to the developer who had complied with the law and process.”
A ballot measure on Tuesday will help settle that debate.
When it was initially proposed last year, developers 20 Central Street LLC planned to build a 35-room boutique hotel — called Rockport Harbor Hotel — on the vacant lot wedged between 18 Central Oyster Bar and Seafolk Coffee in downtown Rockport. The developer has since reduced the number of rooms to 26 and removed an entire floor, although the project would still consume the entire lot.
In 2017, Rockport capped to 40 the number of hotel rooms that could be developed downtown.
But if voters approve a ballot measure on Tuesday, downtown hotels would only be allowed to have 20 rooms, effectively forcing the developer to retool his plans.
Petitioners say these restrictions could help preserve the “century-old scenic view of the harbor” as well as public parking along Central Street and surrounding areas.
But even so, it wouldn’t restrict the overall size and scope of the hotel, according to the town’s selectboard, which said the developer could essentially just make the rooms larger. A nearby park also offers a similar view of the harbor, town officials said.
While developers plan to provide off-site valet parking, voters on Tuesday could additionally require the hotel to fund a traffic study to determine the plan’s viability.
If built, Rockport Harbor Hotel would be the first hotel in the city’s downtown.
The developers behind the proposal also own a boutique hotel in Camden.