Talking hospitality

It makes sense for the commission to look into this. Ridgefield used to have three nice inns. But with The Elms converted to condominiums, and Stonehenge becoming a golf school, the West Lane Inn remains Ridgefield’s only inn — and it’s on the market as the longtime owner contemplates retirement.

Ridgefield is a town that fancies itself a “destination” with regular performances at The Playhouse and ACT, concerts in the park, movies at The Prospector, cultural draws like The Aldrich and Weir Farm, and all those restaurants. Overnight accommodations should be part of that mix.

Introducing the discussion to commissioners, Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti noted that although hotels, motels and inns are allowed in the B-1 and B-2 business zones along Route 35 and Route 7, they aren’t listed as permitted uses in the Central Business District or CBD zone — the commercial village along Main Street, between Governor and Prospect Streets.

One approach the commission talked about would be to simply amend the rules to allow hotels and inns and perhaps bed-and-breakfasts — but not motels — in the Main Street CBD zone. Are there other approaches that deserve discussion?

Encouraging more “hospitality” in or near downtown does seem a good idea. It’s also something that needs considerable thought — some overview, some long-term perspective.

The commission’s discussion suggested members believe a hotel or inn would work best right on Main Street. Does that mean in the commercial village, or maybe somewhere north of the library? How big a hotel and inn would work? What’s too big? The former Elms Inn would seem to have been perfectly situated, but it closed after Schlumberger left town and the research lab’s visiting scientists were lost as regular midweek overnight guests.

Thinking about an inn on Main Street, it’s natural to envision one of those big older mansions being converted to guest accommodations. But with the health and safety codes involved, there’s a good chance any business of this sort would involve new construction. Presumably, anything done along these lines would be designed to fit in architecturally with Main Street — but there’s no guarantee, so it’s a concern. What about allowing overnight accommodations above Main Street shops and restaurants? Might that be better than just offices on the second floor? Parking is another issue. Are there areas on the fringe of the village that might make sense as a small hospitality location — Catoonah Street or Grove Street, maybe?

And, it’s beyond the commission’s or the town’s control, but Ridgefielders can only hope that the West Lane Inn, if sold, will continue to function in its long established role, offering lovely guest rooms near the fountain.