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7/10/2013 2:00:00 PM
Edgecomb Developer To Stick With Hotel Plan
By Dominik Lobkowicz

After a tense meeting with officials and residents, Edgecomb developer Tony Casella plans to move ahead with a 48-unit hotel on Davis Island.

Casella met with the Planning Board on June 13 to discuss the hotel project as well as a retirement community he was considering for a 16-acre parcel on the eastern side of the island. The community, made up of four-unit buildings, would need a total of around 32 units to make the venture profitable because of infrastructure costs, he said.

Casella said he had received feedback that some residents were opposed to the prospect of a hotel and the retirement community, and he proposed getting input from several town boards and residents on how they would like to see the properties developed. Casella said he did not want to spend money developing another project that the town was against.

Following Casella's request, a meeting on July 3 was held jointly between the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and the Ordinance Review Committee. The meeting began with discussion limited to members of the convening bodies.

The subject of the meeting was intended to be a discussion on what Casella is willing do with the properties and what the people on Davis Island want, said Planning Board Chair Jack French.

"We've had a lot of people contact us and say they didn't want [the hotel]," French said.

So many people were dissatisfied with the hotel plan that one option is to rezone the remaining undeveloped areas in a way that make the most people happy, he said.

The properties owned by, or under contract of, Casella are zoned in the Gateway District and Marine District.

Sue Carlson, the former chair of the comprehensive plan committee, said the comprehensive plan calls for "as dense a development as we can along the Gateway District." The proposed hotel falls within the Gateway District, according to a map provided at the meeting.

Lot minimums in two of the zones related to the properties have been voted up from one-quarter acre minimums to two acre minimums by the townspeople, said Selectman Stuart Smith.

"I think it's obvious what the town is saying," Smith said.

Other board and committee members also commented on town votes in favor of reducing density.

Barry Hathorne, chair of the Ordinance Review Committee, said he would like to know how economically viable the hotel would be.

Smith agreed, saying the two other hotels in town are not full, but the decision on viability ultimately rests with Casella.

Discussion continued about the possibility of negotiating with Casella to have him abandon the hotel project, and the option of contract zoning for the parcels in question.

The meeting is "not a poker table" where the town's hand is made up of either a hotel or developing the 16-acre parcel, said ordinance committee member Skip White, whose property borders the 16 acre parcel.

"I don't bargain," he said.

Once the floor was opened to attendees, Casella was given the opportunity to share a verbal proposal of what he had in mind for developing the retirement community. He shared the need for a minimum number of units to make the project financially viable, but said he would not develop the hilltop and would also be willing to donate that land to the town as park.

Casella said he would relinquish the hotel project if he was able to do something on the properties that would help him recover his investment. Designing the hotel had already cost around $50,000, he said.

Still, Casella said the hotel is worth more to him than the retirement community.

"I like the hotel the way it is," said resident Ted Sasala. "What you guys are doing is selling your soul with this compromise," he said to the boards.

Resident Corning Townsend said the discussion appeared to be about rezoning so Casella could make more profit. For the past six years the town has voted for what it wants on zoning, and if building under those conditions is not profitable then maybe the land should not be built on, Townsend said.

Smith agreed with Townsend.

"As one third of the select board, I think the town has given me a message they don't want to change zoning unless it's more restrictive, as far as residential units go," Smith said.

At the end of the meeting, Casella said he would press forward with the hotel project and submit no application for developing the 16-acre parcel.

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