The latest rendering of the Rockport Harbor Hotel, which is being proposed for downtown. Credit: Courtesy of Town of Rockport

A group of residents asked a judge to temporarily suspend a building permit issued by the town of Rockport to a developer that plans to construct a 26-room hotel downtown during a hearing Tuesday afternoon.

The building permit was issued to developer, 20 Central Street LLC, on March 10. But the residents, through their attorneys, are arguing that the building permit should be temporarily suspended while an appeal of the planning board’s approval of the project, as well as a lawsuit against the town, play out in court.

Justice Bruce Mallonee heard arguments on March 30 on the request to suspend the building permit, which was filed with the court on March 17. Mallonee didn’t immediately issue a decision during the hearing on whether or not he would impose a temporary restraining order to halt construction from happening at the site.

Since it was proposed in 2019, the Rockport Harbor Hotel has faced opposition from some Rockport residents who feel the project was too large for downtown.

When it was initially proposed, developers planned to build a 35-room boutique hotel on the vacant lot between 18 Central Oyster Bar and Seafolk Coffee in downtown Rockport. Aftering hearing concerns from people involved with a citizen’s group — the Friends of Rockport — the developer reduced the number of rooms to 26 and removed an entire floor, although the project would still consume the entire lot.

The hotel is being developed by 20 Central Street LLC, which is made up of Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith, the local family behind Maine Sport Outfitters and several Camden hotels.

After the town’s planning board approved the 26-room project last year, voters passed an ordinance amendment that limits the size of hotels downtown to 20 rooms. Several residents filed a lawsuit against the town, alleging that the town must apply the results of the August vote to the Rockport Harbor Hotel project.

Both the appeal of the zoning board’s approval and the civil lawsuit are still pending in Knox County Court.

In order to prevent any interim harm — such as the obstruction of views or traffic — attorney Kristin Collins, who is representing the group of residents, is arguing that a temporary restraining order on the construction of the project is needed until the court rules on the larger legal matters.

Work on the site began in October of last year when the developer received an excavation permit for the project, though nothing has been built on the lot thus far.

Prior to the March 10 issuance of the building permit, Mallonee imposed a temporary restraining order on work at the site at the request of the group of residents on Jan. 8. However, he withdrew the order less than two weeks later and said he would consider reimposing the order when a building permit was issued. Now that the permit has been issued, the residents are seeking a new restraining order.

However, the town’s attorney, Daniel Murphy, said that if the group wants to challenge the issuance of the building permit, they must do so through the town’s zoning board of appeals, not through the court.

“It’s extraordinary that residents would prevent the town from performing administrative actions,” Murphy said.

An attorney representing 20 Central Street LLC said Tuesday that any further delays on the development of the site will cost about $70,000 per month.