SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 23, 2013

Whittier Motel renovation gets OK

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — The Whittier Motel has received Zoning Board of Appeals approval to convert its former restaurant into four motel rooms.

After determining that the renovations would not have a “substantial detrimental impact on the neighborhood,” the board voted unanimously last week to grant a special permit.

Owner Roger LeBlanc received a building permit for the work in July but was issued a stop-work order last month because a special permit was needed, according to Building Inspector James Sperber. The building permit was issued in error because Sperber believed “in good faith” that the special permit had been granted, he said.

The issue came before the board last week after LeBlanc appealed Sperber’s decision. He also applied for a special permit if it was deemed necessary.

The board voted 5-0 to uphold Sperber’s work-stop order after it was determined the motel is a legally existing nonconforming building, which requires a special permit. LeBlanc, who is a member of the board, recused himself from the discussion and sat in the audience.

David Ankeles, LeBlanc’s attorney, said that area of the motel used to be four rooms, and they were converted to create the restaurant.

“The elimination of the bar and restaurant makes the use more compatible with the neighborhood,” Ankeles said.

Member Benjamin Fierro agreed that the project would not have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood.

“In my view, a bar or restaurant is likely going to have more impact on the neighborhood with noise, traffic, potential crime, whatever it might be, than hotel rooms,” he said.

While there were several residents in the audience, no one spoke during the public hearing.

Fierro also clarified that the new units will not have kitchens or kitchen amenities, which has been a controversial issue in the past.

In March 2011, the appeals board upheld a stop-work order for installing “kitchen amenities,” including cabinets and a sink in several rooms. Sperber said at the time that changed the building’s use from a motel to an apartment or long-term dwelling, which would require a special permit.

LeBlanc is also hoping to expand to 37 rooms by proposing a new, two-story building with 10 rooms. The Planning Board unanimously approved the plan last month. A building permit must be approved before construction can begin.