Hotel Developer Sues ZBA After It Rejected Pleasant Street Proposal

Photo: Michael Colomba at the April ZBA meeting.

Saying it’s a “matter of principle,” the Waltham developer whose proposal to build a European-style boutique hotel at the corner of Pleasant Street and Brighton Road was rejected last month by the Zoning Board of Appeals, has filed a lawsuit in Land Court to reverse the board’s decision, calling the decision “an erroneous application of the law and constitutes an abuse of [its] discretion.”

Michael Colomba said he reversed his decision to place a small grocery store at the location – the former Mini Mart convenience store – after the board’s judgment on April 4 after reviewing the board’s ruling in detail. 

“After the dust settled, I really questioned the board’s process coming to its 3-2 decision,” Colomba told the Belmontonian. 

Colomba is seeking to renovation of the two-building, two-story structure at 334 Pleasant St. –  and offices – into a boutique hotel consisting of 19 guest rooms, a cafe for guests, a fitness room, a business center and offices on the 14,400 sq.-ft. site. Columba purchased the site in September 2015 for $1.9 million. 

Also, Colomba said for days after the verdict, “I received so many phone calls from residents and officials. They said, ‘Michael, this is nuts. How can they say you can’t come here? You need to appeal this’.”

The heart of Colomba’s complaint lies in the board’s view that the town’s zoning bylaws don’t explicitly mention “hotels” as an acceptable application.

“There is nothing in the bylaws that says a hotel can go anywhere in Belmont because there is no reference to a hotel use so how can we even hear arguments for the special permits,” said ZBA Chair Eric Smith in April, ending the meeting before hearing any appeal for four special permits Colomba was seeking to build the hotel. 

In the lawsuit filed April 22 in Land Court, a department of the Trial Court based in the Suffolk County Court House, Colomba claims that while there is no stated use for a hotel, “under the use category of ‘Business’ there is a catch all entitled ‘Other retail sales and services’ which requires a special permit.” 

Colomba told the Belmontonian that the ZBA could not “100 percent say what ‘others’ mean” suggesting this section of the bylaws was taken “word for word” using regulations from other municipalities as a template. 

“It is the town that need to spell out what ‘other’ mean, not me,” he said.

And, in fact, the town bylaws’ general regulations regarding off-street parking includes the phrase “hotels, motels, room and board, other commercial accommodations” thus confirming the town does allow hotels as a use. 

By closing down the process before hearing Colomba’s defense for the special permits was “an erroneous application of the law and constitutes an abuse of discretion” as the ZBA exceed its authority in a “whimsical, capricious or arbitrary” way causing him to suffer damages.

Colomba is urging the court to “issue a declaratory judgment” in his favor, “declaring that the hotel use, with the issuance of a Special Permit, is a permitted use in the town” in addition to “such further relief as justice requires.” 

For Columba, who filed the suit just under the time permitted to appeal such rulings, he hopes the courts will at least allow him to present his case for the hotel.

“I say let the state now decide. I believe that we will get a fair ruling,” he said.