DRB hears further testimony on Harbor Place issue

At its July 6 meeting, the Development Review Board heard further testimony on the appeal by Champlain Housing Trust on the notice of violation issued regarding the operation of Harbor Place.

Attorneys from both parties, as well as DRB members, questioned Dean Pierce, director of Planning and Zoning. Pierce testified that he met with Amy Demetrowitz, director of real estate development for Champlain Housing Trust (CHT), when CHT was considering purchasing the property about its development potential for converting the motel to apartments. At that time, he was not asked whether Harbor Place as it operates today would comply with the zoning regulations as a hotel/motel.

Attorneys from Shelburne and the Champlain Housing Trust testified regarding the notice of violation Harbor Place recieved.
Attorneys from Shelburne and the Champlain Housing Trust testified regarding the notice of violation Harbor Place recieved.

He met again with CHT staff after the property purchase and notified them that it did not comply with the regulations. He based that opinion on his understanding that those served by Harbor Place were referred by various agencies rather than being members of the general public. Pierce defined “general public” as being open to everyone, without regard to their membership in any particular group or category, which is not the case at Harbor Place because rooms are rented only to those referred by agencies.

He added that his opinion was further reinforced when he later reviewed documents such as CHT’s grant application to the Housing and Conservation Board, as well as CHT board minutes and published materials. These materials referred to five apartments and a business model built around contracts with agencies budgeted on monthly and annual rates, rather than daily and weekly rates for hotel/motel rooms, as defined in the hotel/motel regulation. Furthermore, the materials referred to short-term residential services at transitional housing and did not mention that Harbor Place would be operating as a motel.

He drew a distinction between transitional lodging accommodations permitted under the definition from housing and other forms of lodging. He also noted that additional services are offered at Harbor Place that extend beyond the permitted uses at a hotel/motel. He stated that any use not explicitly permitted is prohibited under the zoning bylaws, although some might be allowable as permitted accessory use if it constitutes a small percentage of the use, such as no more than 20%, a standard set by the DRB in regard to a different property in Shelburne.

Pierce clarified that he had not conducted the investigation into Harbor Place, nor had he drafted the notice of violation. He added that the notice of violation should be viewed as a whole, rather than focusing on each of the nine elements in the notice.

Demetrowitz was also questioned during the hearing. She said that the CHT grant application did not reflect the actual operations of Harbor Place today. Harbor Place only charges daily rates and offers only motel rooms, not apartments. Harbor Place does have a license to operate as a motel.  She stated that CHT had not been informed prior to the issuance of the notice of violation that having agreements with agencies would disqualify Harbor Place from meeting the definition of hotel/motel.

The DRB will continue its hearing on the appeal at its meeting on Wednesday, August 17 at 7pm. All meetings are open to the public.

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