Tuesday's Planning Board meeting lasted for close to two and a half hours. An hour was spent talking about Colarusso and the road through South Bay. Another hour was devoted to 601 Union Street, the Italian villa that once was the Elks Lodge, where the Casetta Group is planning to develop a boutique hotel.
The project has been before the regulatory boards for more than a year. Because the building is located in a residential district, a use variance was required for its adaptive reuse as a hotel. A use variance was granted in March 2022, with the enthusiastic support of the neighbors to the west of the building. The original plan was to locate some hotel amenities on the roof of the building, but that plan had to be abandoned when it was discovered that the roof could not support what was envisioned. As a consequence, a new plan was developed, which involved siting a pool, an event space, a kitchen and bar, a gym and spa, and a building housing ten additional rooms on land that is part of the property, which extends east behind the municipal parking lot and 611 Union Street.
The change in plan required an amended use variance. It also attracted the attention of the owner of 611 Union Street, Walter Brett, who was concerned about the negative impact of the hotel development on his historic house. In February, when the project came back before the Zoning Board of Appeals for an amended use variance, Brett summarized his objections by telling the ZBA, "It feels like the circus has come to town permanently, and it has settled in my backyard."
Despite Brett's concerns and his lawyer's contention that a major requirement for a use variance--that the alleged hardship was not self-created--had not been satisfied, the ZBA granted the amended use variance in July. It remains for the project to get site plan approval from the Planning Board and a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission. When the project came before the HPC in February, it was received enthusiastically, but its potential impacts on the historic house at 611 Union were not considered at that time.
At the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, Brett was present to express his concerns about the noise, lights, and smells that would emanant from the pool, event space, and kitchen proposed for the space behind his house. Lance Helfert of Casetta said they had wanted to talk with Brett when they were developing the plans for the additional buildings but Brett's attorney didn't want him to speak with them. Victoria Polidoro, counsel to the Planning Board, asked Brett if he had challenged the ZBA's decision to grant the use variance. Brett responded that he still had some time to file an Article 78 challenging the decision.
It was decided that the members of the Planning Board would make a site visit to Brett's backyard on Saturday, August 19, at 11:00 a.m., after they had visited the site of the Colarusso road. The Planning Board also requested a rendering of the proposed buildings from the vantage point of the rear of 611 Union Street. Below is an aerial rendering of the proposed site that was presented to the HPC in February.