B&B hearing draws big crowd, extension

What’s the difference between a bed-and-breakfast and a hotel?

That was the debate at Tuesday night’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing, where an application for a proposed bed-and-breakfast on Circle Drive was presented to a crowd of about 100 neighboring residents.

Attorney Peter Olson, who represents Hobby Drive residents Rob and Claudia Pacifico, spoke first and told the commission that there was no distinction between a bed-and-breakfast, a home posted on the website Airbnb, or a hotel.

“All of these uses require the use of the Internet [to generate business],” Olson said. “There is functionally no difference.”

But members of the commission took strong objection to that line of argument.

“So what?” asked Vice Chairman Joe Fossi. “Thirty years ago, people advertised a bed-and-breakfast in the pages of the New York Times.”

“Mr. Olson, you know that we don’t allow Airbnb’s in Ridgefield,” Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said.

Three dozen left

Olson was one of two people who spoke in opposition to the project Tuesday night. The commission didn’t get the opportunity to hear from 37 other members of the public who had signed up to give comment, and that’s why it decided to extend the hearing to Wednesday, Nov. 8.

The Pacificos founded the Circle Drive Neighbors Alliance after Tom and Cathy Savoca submitted plans this summer to convert their home at 47 Circle Drive into a two-room bed-and-breakfast.

The Hobby Drive couple collected 77 signatures from residents who also opposed the application, and cited commercial intrusion into a residential zone and additional traffic to the neighborhood as two of their primary reasons for opposing the project.

Counter argument

In her presentation, Cathy Savoca acknowledged her neighbors’ concerns.

“Change can be hard,” she said, “especially when it deals with what is for most people — including us — our single largest financial asset.”

More importantly, she said, homes also deal with “who you are, where you live, and where you raise your children.”

But she argued that fears of strangers entering the neighborhood or of increased traffic were over-exaggerated.

“The guy who delivers our New York Times is more dangerous,” she said.

“Frankly, our own children generated more traffic than our guests would when they lived with us.”

‘Outside the scope’

Olson, who was arguing on behalf of the Pacificos Tuesday night, pointed to an acre of land at 39 Circle Drive that the Savocas purchased next door to their property.

While Cathy Savoca said during her presentation that the lot had no relation to the bed-and-breakfast application, Olson produced a police report from an incident in which Tom Savoca had reportedly removed some of the neighbors’ protesting signs from the property that he owned.

“We think it’s pretty much obscene that this piece of paper is in front of any of us tonight,” Cathy Savoca said.

She denied that she and her husband had any intention of expanding the B&B onto the undeveloped lot.

Mucchetti said the document was irrelevant to the discussion.

“It’s very unfortunate that Mr. Olson felt it necessary to bring this before us,” she said, “because it’s far outside the scope of what the commission can consider.”

Serving a need

The Planning Department expressed support of the Savocas’ plan Tuesday night.

“I believe the effects of the B&B would be negligible on the whole, and would serve the needs of the town,” said Assistant Planner Adam Schnell.

Planning Director Richard Baldelli said he felt the couple would need to have an engineer design the “ingress and egress routes” for the home.

“Other than that, I don’t see how a B&B would create any more traffic than two teenagers,” he said.

Baldelli added that the town took issue with Airbnb listings in Ridgefield that did not have a special permit to operate from the commision.

If the Savocas’ application is approved, he explained, they would be welcome to advertise on the site.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that the entire crowd opposed the application. Some speakers were in favor but were not able to give public comment due to time constraints. The story also first said the petition received almost 100 signatures from Circle Drive neighbors. The petition was signed by 77 Ridgefield residents and not all of them live in the neighborhood.