Credit: Courtesy of Town of Rockport

ROCKPORT, Maine ― The Rockport Zoning Board of Appeals has upheld the planning board’s approval of a 26-room boutique hotel slated for downtown — but a group opposed to the project plans to continue appealing the matter in court.

Friends of Rockport seeks to overturn the Rockport Planning Board’s approval of the project, or at least force developers to reduce the number of rooms in the proposed Rockport Harbor Hotel from 26 to 20, in keeping with a referendum that was approved by voters in August.

After a series of meetings, the zoning board of appeals ― which handles appeals of planning board decisions ― voted unanimously Jan. 22 to uphold the planning board’s initial approval.

But Friends of Rockport argues that the zoning board of appeals erred and plans to appeal in Knox County Superior Court, according to the group’s attorney.

“The group feels confident that a judge will find that there were legal errors and remand the case back to the planning board for those errors to be addressed,” said Kristin Collins, the attorney representing Friends of Rockport.

When it was initially proposed in 2019, developers planned to build a 35-room boutique hotel on the vacant lot wedged between 18 Central Oyster Bar and Seafolk Coffee in downtown Rockport. Aftering hearing concerns from people involved with 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.

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 — is developing the hotel.

Friends of Rockport has filed a lawsuit in Knox County Court against the town of Rockport and 20 Central Street LLC. The group is asking a judge to order the town to apply the results of the August referendum to the Rockport Harbor Hotel project.

Earlier this month, a judge put a temporary hold on the town’s ability to grant a building permit to 20 Central Street LLC. But Justice Bruce Mallonee vacated that order earlier this month, after finding the group failed to show how they would face irreparable harm if the temporary order was lifted.

Mallonee stated that if a building permit was granted to 20 Central Street LLC by Rockport’s code enforcement officer, the group would be able to bring the issue back to court.

Excavation on the Rockport hotel site has begun, but a building permit has not been issued. A message left this week for the Smiths wasn’t returned.