Inn or hotel on Main Street? Town wants to encourage ‘hospitality’ growth

The West Lane Inn, built in 1849, was originally the 19th-Century house of Harvey Bissell, the pharmacist. Owner Debbie Prieger has put the property on the market. Her family has owned it since 1973.
The West Lane Inn, built in 1849, was originally the 19th-Century house of Harvey Bissell, the pharmacist. Owner Debbie Prieger has put the property on the market. Her family has owned it since 1973.

A hotel or inn might be a beneficial addition to the Main Street commercial area, most members of the Planning and Zoning have concluded.

So the commission has asked its staff to work up a potential regulation change that could open the Central Business District (CBD) to “hospitality” operations.

“Stonehenge closed and The Elms closed and it became apparent there was just no hospitality in town, other than The West Lane Inn. We used to have multiple options,” Planning and Zoning Commission chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti told The Press.

And that prompted Mucchetti to schedule a discussion on “hospitality” at the end of the commission’s June 4 agenda.

She said commissioner Charles Robbins had a connection in the hotel industry who would provide some perspective, answering questions as commissioners had begun looking into the issue back in the late winter.

“As a town of this size, is trying to bring a hotel in feasible?” Mucchetti said.

“Are we more of an inn type of town? Or if what they’re now calling ‘boutique hotels’ was something a potential hotel company would be interested in?” she said.

“We didn’t know...

“[The hotel industry expert] said 30, 40 rooms — that would probably work, but it really needed to be downtown.”

At the June 4 meeting, most commission members shared the view that the town could benefit from more places for people to stay — especially in the village.

“I believe we definitely need something in town,” said commissioner Rich Vazzana.

With his involvement in the annual Rotary barbeque held at the Lounsbury House, Vazzana said, out-of-town hotels would regularly reach out, seeking business with people coming to Ridgefield for the event.

“I don’t want to tell you how many hotels,” he said.

More rooms are needed in town, Vazzana said.

“West Lane, they’re full,” he said.

People coming to events in Ridgefield end up staying out of town.

“We need something to keep them here,” Vazzana said.

“My main issue,” he added, “is how do I get people to come and visit Ridgefield.”

Market Street

The idea of a hotel on the town-owned Community Center property — not in the Lounsbury House itself, but where there are two rental houses at the corner of Main Street and Market Street — was briefly explored, Mucchetti said.

“The idea was, where the two rental properties are along Market Street — this was all concept, it never got any further than conversation — what do we think if you could renovate that facade, keep the facade the same, and have a building that would go along Market Street?” Mucchetti said.

“You needed to have some common space. You needed to provide some sort of food services. You needed some parking…”

Mucchetti said she wasn’t a direct participant in the discussions — she’d been told about it.

“The property owners are the town. I wasn’t a part of these conversations,” she said. “My understanding was there was a conversation with Lounsbury House, and they liked the idea,” she said. “It’s a natural fit, they’re an events space.”

But the idea of a hotel on the town-owned community center property didn’t get very far.

CBD zone

“Conversations were also held with ACT and The Playhouse,” she said.

“When they have performers coming in, there’s no place to stay in town.”

Mucchetti’s thought was that if the commission felt the town could benefit from some more hospitality operations, it should consider being a little proactive and making some changes in the regulations that would allow such businesses. Research suggested the best place would be Main Street, in or near the commercial area — the Central Business District or “CBD zone.”

“The CBD doesn’t even allow hotels or inns right now,” Mucchetti said.

She said the the town’s B-1 and B-2 business zones — found along Route 35 and Route 7, mostly — both allow “hotels, motels and inns” but not CBD zone doesn’t.

“It’s not a major modification to the regulations,” Mucchetti said. “It would be adding two words under permitted uses in the CBD: ‘hotels or inns.’ ”

Commission skeptic

During the commission’s discussion on June 4 there was one skeptic. Commission member John Katz was a little uncomfortable with the idea of the commission working on regulation changes in collaboration with someone from the industry.

“I’m in no way against hospitality in Ridgefield. I’m against the planning and Zoning Commission become a shill for any kind of business,” said Katz. “...I don’t think we should initiate it.”

Talking to business people to promoting growth and attract development is the job of the Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC), Katz said.

Other commissioners seemed to feel his concern was misplaced.

“I think it is a planning conversation: If we feel that type of business should exist anywhere, not just Main Street,” said commission member Cathy Savoca.

“I do believe it’s a planning conversation,” said commissioner Charles Robbins. “It’s also an ECDC conversation.”

“Would we be interesting in amending our regulations to allow hospitality in the CBD?” Mucchetti asked near the end of the rambing discussion.

Six of the seven other commissioners present at the table agreed.

“We do need hotel space in the CBD zone, on Main Street,” said commissioner Mark Zeck.

John Katz wasn’t so sure.

“I’d have to think about it a lot harder than we have,” he said.

He’ll have time to think.

“Something could be developed over the hiatus,” Muchetti said, referring to the commission’s month-long summer break, “and discussed again.”

It’s a long term project.

“I think this is in the early stages,” Mucchetti told The Press. “ I jsut wanted to get some direction from the commission: Is this something we’d like to look at? And the consensus was, it was. And so we’ll move forward.”