Plans to use the Stonehenge Inn property as a golf academy — while continuing to operate it as a venue for events like weddings, and possibly reopening it someday as a restaurant — are moving along for Roger Knick of the Golf Performance Center.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved his application for an educational use, allowing him to house and feed students of his golf academy, and have them work at their studies, at the site of once prestigious Stonehenge Inn.

“We’re not changing the nature of the hotel or restaurant in any way,” attorney Robert Jewell told the commission at a July 14 public hearing conducted over the internet.

The commission voted unanimously later in that meeting to approve the educational use of the former Stonehenge — which will also retain the inn and restaurant use.

“The goal of the applicant is to keep both the inn alive and adding the educational use to that,” Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli told the commission.

The inn property is a legal non-conforming use in a two-acre residential zone.

Attorney Jewell later clarified the plans for the two uses in an email response to The Press.

“The facility, including the restaurant, is open for private functions and weddings, but for now the restaurant is not open to the general public on a daily basis. It is my understanding that at some point down the road it will be,” he said “If the school program is successful, it will move to a different site.”

2018 purchase

Knick, the owner of the Golf Performance Center on the corner of Picketts Ridge Road and Route 7, purchased the 10-acre inn property at 45 Stonehenge Road for $1.5 million in December 2018, and he also bought three and half acres at the corner of Route 7 and Haviland Roadfor $900,000 in February 2019.

Jewell told the Planning and Zoning Commission that the plan was to operate the golf academy as a “pilot program” on the Stonehenge property — while still allowing a local chef to use the inn to cater weddings and other social events.

If it works out, the academy would eventually be moved to new facilities that would be built on the property Knick had purchased at the corner of Haviland and Route 7 — just across from the Golf Performance Center.

“If this pilot program is successful,” Jewell said, “...they reach a certain level of students — in this case 18 students — they’d begin the process of constructing a permanent facility in that location,” Jewell said. “This is somewhat of a trial balloon.”

Pond drying up

Steven Bronfield of Palmer Court was the only member of the public to speak at the public hearing on the application. He raised the issue of a pond behind his property, which he said had lately suffered from a very low level of water — a problem he attributed to less water being allowed to leave the pond upstream on the Stonehenge property.

“There’s no water feeding into my pond,” he said.

“The water’s gotten very, very low, it’s actually affecting the wildlife in my backyard.”

Jewell recalled that there’d been problems with the Stonehenge pond in the past.

“The dam broke in 2010 and the entire pond emptied during a storm,” he said.

Commission member George Hanlon, who was involved in developing the Palmer Court subdivision years ago, said the pond by Palmer Court was on open space donated to the town.

Bronfield agreed he did not own the pond — but his property just looks out on it — and he reiterated his concern.

“I’m sitting here watching the pond get lower and lower and I’m concerned about the wildlife,” he said.

Jewell suggested that when his client returns to town they would meet with Bronfield by the pond, look at the problem, and try work out a solution — which might be as simple as raising a gate to let more water out of the Stonehenge pond.

Bronfield agreed.

“Maybe we can just resolve this between us, as neighbors,” he said.

“I’ll make sure we get in touch in the next week,” Jewell said.

Supervision

Commission member Ben Nneji wondered about supervision of the students at the golf academy.

“These are young school-age children,” he said.

Jewell said the plan for was to have seven full-time and three part-time employees working at the school, plus two residence advisers, who would live on the property and supervise the students, expected to total 18.

“Their day is very regimented,” he said. “It’s like an athletic program more than anything. It’s probably more akin to an Olympics-type athletic program.

“These kids are not going to be on their own a lot,” he added.

The vote to approve the educational use, as well as the inn, was 9-to-0.

Commissioner Susan Consentino said the new owners had obviously put a lot into fixing the property up:

“The place is great. They’ve done a great job,” she said.

Stonehenge Inn operated at the site from 1946 until 2017, when it closed. It was founded by Victor Gilbert, who named his inn after the prehistoric Stonehenge site with its giant stone monoliths in England, where Gilbert was stationed during World War II. The inn was sold to chef Albert Stockli in 1965.

The original 1823 building burned to the ground in 1988 and was rebuilt and reopened — still under the Stonehenge name — by Douglas Seville and David Davis.

It closed in 2017 after the unexpected death of a new owner, Drew Friedman of Westport, in 2016. Friedman, who also owned Cobbs Mill Inn in Weston and Onion Alley in Westport, had acquired Stonehenge in 2015.