EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 9, 2013

Neighbors seek deal to drop hotel suit

Settlement talks over sewer hook-ups scheduled today

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — A group of neighbors suing the city over a proposed upscale hotel near Northern Essex Community College are meeting today with lawyers for the developers in an attempt to win concessions to allow the project to go forward.

City Council approved the 60-room Lexington by Vantage hotel in February and the local developers said they planned to begin construction this summer. The developers said they hoped to open this fall, although that timetable seems unlikely now due to the lawsuit.

The 3.6-acre site is on Amesbury Road (Route 110), near Interstate 495's exit 52 in the eastern section of the city. It is just east of the highway interchange on Route 110, behind a Dunkin Donuts and the Mobil gas station at 401 Amesbury Road.

Eight neighbors of the property, including George and Andrew Wickson, who are the administrators of the estate that owns the gas station, sued the council and the developers to stop the project.

In May, a Land Court judge ordered the plaintiffs to provide more information by June 5 about their claim and what kind of relief they were seeking from the court. The plaintiffs missed the deadline.

But late last month an attorney for the plaintiffs, Rory Gill of the firm UrbanVillage Legal of Boston, asked the court for another chance.

"After some miscommunications among my clients and I, there was some uncertainty on whether and how to proceed with the case and settlement negotiations," Gill said in a letter to Land Court Judge Robert Foster. "The problem has been rectified ... After conferring with opposing counsel, mediation of the parties has been scheduled for July 9 with time reserved for continued discussions July 12."

Gill declined comment when reached at his office yesterday.

The amended complaint indicated the neighbors are looking for a written agreement that the developers will provide them with free access to a city sewer line the developers are bringing to the area to accommodate the hotel.

"The (council's) decision, in the form of meeting minutes, contains a representation that the installation of a sewer system will be of benefit to neighboring commercial uses," the amended lawsuit said. But "the findings and conditions ... are unclear related to the installation of a sewer system under Amesbury Road and cannot be resolved in favor of the defendants. The decision of the City Council is unclear with regard to the defendant's obligations, conditions and responsibilities."

City officials have said a key part of the project for them is that the developers have agreed to pay for Haverhill to bring the city sewer line about a half-mile up Route 110 to the hotel and areas near it. Sewer service is something residents and businesses in that part of the city have wanted for a long time.

A city ordinance allows a developer who installs a sewer line to charge others a fee to hook into it, based on the cost of installing the line.

But at the council's February hearing, the developers indicated they would allow residential hook-ups at no cost, but commercial or business hook-ups would be subject to a payment. It's unclear whether those representations have been put in writing, however.

"Current businesses in that part of the city have had sewer problems and this will help them,” said Stephen Stapinski, one of the developers and the project's engineer, told the council at the February hearing.

At that hearing, Michael Migliori, a local attorney for the project, said the plan was to begin construction on the $4.5 million hotel this summer. City councilors and city officials praised the project at the hearing. No one spoke against it.

The property is owned by PAM Realty Trust. King Weinstein and Stapinski are developing the hotel under the name Miami Stuart Realty LLC. Patricia Stapinski is the trustee of PAM Realty Trust.

The proposed three-story hotel is to include 12 full-time workers and many more part-time positions. It is also expected to generate about $800,000 in fees and property tax for the city over the next decade, the developers said.

Lexington by Vantage operates upscale inns and hotels in key cities around the world and is part of Vantage Hospitality Group, the eighth largest hotel company in the world, according to the company’s Web site. The company has three hotels in New York, but this would be its first in New England.

The hotel would be the third in Haverhill, joining the 126-room Hampton Inn on Bank Road and the 110-room Best Western on Lowell Avenue.