SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 16, 2013

Whittier Motel back before Zoning Board

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — The Whittier Motel is once again going before the Zoning Board of Appeals after its owner appealed a second stop-work order issued by the town’s building inspector against the property.

Owner Roger LeBlanc is seeking to continue a construction project to “convert the existing bar/restaurant area into four motel rooms,” according to the appeal filed in the town clerk’s office.

The meeting is tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. in Room A at Town Hall, 25 Green St.

Building Inspector James Sperber issued the stop-work order after incorrectly granting a building permit for the work, he wrote on Dec. 11. He said the conversion of the restaurant area requires a ZBA special permit, which has not been granted.

In appealing the order, LeBlanc, who is a member of the ZBA, is questioning if such a special permit is required because such interior alterations do not change the use of the building under zoning bylaws, he said.

“It is a motel, and that is not changing,” LeBlanc said in an interview. “It is going from a 23-room motel with a restaurant/bar to a 27-room motel.”

He said similar interior construction projects have gone on in town without a special permit from the board.

If the board does not overturn Sperber’s order, LeBlanc applied for the special permit. LeBlanc’s special permit application will be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting if needed.

The County Road motel has been a contentious issue the past few years, with residents fearing that renovation work to the existing building could lead to permanent housing, creating more traffic and lowering property values.

LeBlanc appeared before his own board in March 2011 after being issued a stop-work order by Sperber for installing “kitchen amenities,” including cabinets and a sink outside the bathroom in several rooms. The ZBA voted to uphold the stop order on March 31, which Sperber said changed the building’s use from a motel to an apartment or long-term dwelling, which would require a special permit.

The board ruled that four efficiency kitchens can remain, LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc is proposing to build a new two-story building with 10 additional rooms. The motel’s pool will be removed to make room for the new building. The Planning Board unanimously approved the plan last month.

A building permit must be approved before construction can begin, Sperber has previously said.

The Planning Board has determined the property can hold up to 37 rooms, LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said his goal is to improve the property. Plans call for repaving the parking lot, landscaping and restoring the sign out front, he said.

He said nearly half the rooms were inhabitable when he bought the property in January 2011. He said he has installed new carpets, painted and installed new toilets, which does not require permits.

“It is a process,” he said. “It has been frustrating.”

He said he also plans to install new siding and roofing to the existing building, which the new building will match.