, Salem, MA

December 27, 2012

Whittier Motel looks to expand amid controversy

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — The owner of the Whittier Motel is proposing a new two-story building with 10 additional rooms amid controversy over renovations to the existing building.

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.

The Planning Board unanimously approved a site review plan for the new building on Dec. 13 with several conditions, including developing a landscaping plan. A building permit must be approved before construction can begin, according to Building Inspector James Sperber.

Sperber said no applications for a permit had been filed as of yesterday morning.

The proposal to expand the motel did not require a Planning Board special permit, which would have considered whether the proposed building is appropriate for the site, according to Glenn Gibbs, director of planning and development.

Gibbs said the site plan review by the Planning Board did not consider work to the existing building.

Sperber did send a letter to Gibbs before the vote saying he believed that LeBlanc’s plans for the new building shouldn’t be approved until other matters are resolved. But town counsel determined that there was no legal basis for the request, Sperber said.

The pool on-site will be removed to make way for the new building, and the rooms will face the parking lot, according to plans filed with the town’s planning department. There will be a laundry facility on the first floor to be used by guests only, an office and a garage for maintenance, according to the plans.

Under the town’s bylaws, the rooms will not include cooking facilities.

Roger LeBlanc, a member of the Ipswich Zoning Board of Appeals, bought the property at 120 County Road in late January 2011 for $525,000, taking it over from North Shore Resorts, which had operated the 23-unit motel since 1972.

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.

A retroactive building permit for the previous work was filed by LeBlanc earlier this month but was denied by Sperber because the work needs the special permit, according to the denial letter. LeBlanc has the right to appeal the decision to the ZBA or the state’s Building Code Appeals Board.

Sperber also issued another stop-work order earlier this month for a separate issue involving the construction of four additional guest rooms in the former restaurant and bar. In this case, LeBlanc had been issued a building permit in error because a special permit was not obtained from the ZBA, according to the order.

LeBlanc has appealed the recent stop-work order, and a hearing before the ZBA is scheduled for Jan. 17, Sperber said.

LeBlanc did not return a phone call for this story.