2013-10-17 / News

Neighbors speak out against motor inn owners

By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – A proposal to demolish a single-family dwelling at 25 Puffin St. and construct a three-unit building on the site was met with a chilly response from neighbors at last week’s planning board meeting.

Owners John and Daniel Donovan, who also own the Friendship Motor Inn at nearby 167 East Grand Ave., told planner sthey want to convert the residential waterfront space into lodging for the abutting inn. Neighbors say the developers have a poor track record in following the process and rules for building new structures.

Valancy Harlow, who lives on Ladd Street, which intersects Puffin Street, said the Donovans tore down a building at 32 Puffin St. last November and built a new structure there. She said they did so without notifying abutting property owners and without going through a formal public hearing process with the planning board. They also put up exterior lights around the building, for which Harlow said the city has no permit recorded.

Nearly 30 residents attended the Thursday, Oct. 10 planning board’s public hearing for the proposal. Several neighbors spoke against the plan, citing problems that the 32 Puffin St. development had created and still need to be addressed.

Steve Harlow, Valancy’s husband, said the property at 32 Puffin St was changed from two units to three units last year, and went from a building that can sleep eight people to one that sleeps 18. The increased traffic for that property has created congestion on the street because lodgers illegally park on the street, which is a no parking zone, Steve Harlow said.

Steve Bean, who has lived in the neighborhood for eight years, said the hotel’s golf cart often drives on the sidewalks instead of on streets.

Tom Donovan, who owned the Friendship Motor Inn for 25 years before selling it to his sons, said the inn had earned a “very good reputation” and never had any problems with police or code enforcement, and that neighbors were overreacting.

On Sept. 27, Chief of Police Dana Kelley wrote a letter to Town Planner Jeffrey Hinderliter with a concern that “the addition of three more units that don’t have adequate on-site parking to an already congested area with no on-street parking, will create added congestion to an area that is already limited in its ability to handle current traffic and parking needs.”

Kelley also wrote that “tenants (of 32 Puffin St.) are using the public portion of the street at the end of Puffin Street where it abuts the Friendship Motor property as parking for their three-unit rental property guests. There are three spaces there that have signage that indicate that it is assigned parking for that building. There is no parking on that section of the town’s right of way (street) and if they (Donovans) are designating that area for their tenants to park in, they are doing so illegally.”

Valancy Harlow said when the Donovans rebuilt on 32 Puffin St., they put nine feet of steps “on top of two parking spaces that used to be there.”

“They took away their own parking spots and now they tell people to park on the street, which is illegal,” Harlow said.

She also said exterior lighting is excessive and constantly shines a bright light into her bedroom.

“I can’t sleep at night,” she said.

A metal fence at the end of Puffin Street blocks access to the adjacent motor inn’s parking lot, and several neighbors complained that the motor inn does not use the access from the motel-side of the property for loading and unloading, and for trash collection.

“The truck that picks up the trash comes careening around the corner every day,” Valancy Harlow said. “We’re not saying they can’t develop the property, but safety issues need to be addressed first.”

Several neighbors also complained about the large number of air conditioners that were installed in the neighborhood-side of the building at 32 Puffin St. building.

“Why couldn’t those have been installed on the motel-side instead, so we wouldn’t have all this noise pollution in our neighborhood?” asked Steve Harlow.

Several neighbors said they could no longer hear the ocean because of the noise the air conditioners made.

When Tom Donovan spoke, he addressed the complaints with sarcasm, saying, “Really? Excuse me. I’m sorry if you can’t hear your ocean.”

William Thompson, the project manager who would oversee the construction, accompanied John Donovan to the podium to address the planning board.

Thompson said he had discussed making some changes with Donovan to address the concerns neighbors raised when they attended a walk through of the property and site review.

Thompson said the new site would have centralized cooling instead of air conditioners to cut down on exterior noise, and outside lights would be frosted and equipped with motion detectors. An old barn on the site would also be torn down and turned into a lawn area that could provide two more parking spaces, he added.

Win Winch, a member of the planning board, said there were too many concerns expressed by neighbors to approve the proposal, and that many questions were left unanswered.

Winch also took the design of the 32 Puffin St. building to task.

“They built a very unattractive building,” Winch said. “Are you ashamed of it? At least make (the new building) more visually attractive. Jeepers creepers, I was really surprised when I saw that thing on the waterfront.”

Winch said current designs of the Puffin Street properties “are maxing it out at the expense of the neighbors.”

Board member Carl D’Agostino said, “I’m concerned about this expectation that you will take the garage down and have grass in an area where there hasn’t been any grass for 100 years. That would be a deterrent to people. I don’t want to really park on the grass.”

D’Agostino suggested that the site of the barn should just be converted into concrete parking spaces so there is no doubt that tenants can park there.

Thompson said a new revised proposal would be submitted and Donovan said he would work with neighbors to resolve some of their concerns.

The planning board made no motion to officially consider the proposal.

Valancy Harlow said after the planning board meeting she told Friendship Motor Inn lodgers on Puffin Street that they were illegally parking on the street and could be towed. Harlow said the tenants replied that the inn’s owner told them to park on the street.

“Here he is, the next day after telling the planning board he was going to try and work with us, and he’s still telling people to park on the street illegally,” she said.

Harlow said Daniel Donovan came over after the tenants went back and asked him where they should park. She said he then berated her for telling them where to park, and asked her if it was really blocking her from using the street.

“Well, technically no, I can still get in and out of my driveway, but when I have guests, I have to (provide parking for them) elsewhere,” Harlow said. “We have to follow the rules. Shouldn’t they have to follow the same rules as everyone else?”

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