Washington Inn Discussion Continues at Zoning

From the Litchfield County Times:

WASHINGTON-How should the town define an inn? Should such establishments once again be allowed on town roads, rather than restricted to sites along state roads?

Whether these questions will be answered separately, together or not at all remains to be seen, but the Zoning Commission continued debate on the topics at its meeting Monday, as it worked on a possible framework for inn regulations.”  Our current regulations say very little about inns, and they therefore don’t give much guid­ance to an applicant or to the commission,” Zoning Commission Chairman David Owen told The Litchfield County Times with regard to the need to move for­ward with the discussion-.

To the commission, Mr. Owen proposed defining inns broadly, and then adding specific require­ments for specific districts.  “In the business district, what we decide would be appropriate would be different than in a resi­dential district,” Mr. Owen told his fellow commissioners, adding that a necessary special permit would still allow the commission to use “discretionary judgment” regard­less of the district.

Currently, inns are only permit­ted in Washington by special per­mit, and based on a 2008 ruling, which grew out of a highly publi­cized luxury resort application for the former Wykeham Rise girls school property, the commission voted 4 to 1 to clarify language concerning where inns could be located.  A vague regulation that elic­ited different interpretations was revised to specifically say that inns could not be located alongside town roads.  Wykeham Road, which runs by the former girls school, is a town road. The vote to ban inns from • town roads did not affect the plans submitted by Matt Klauer, as his project was under consideration before the change was made. However, because the controversial application was ulti­mately denied based on concerns about the scope and impact of the plans, the Wykeham Rise property is no longer a possible site for an inn—at least for now.

On Monday, Mr. Owen issued a preliminary draft concept, for discussion only, on how the town should define an inn and what uses should be allowed by a special per­mit. In it, he has an inn as a “small country hotel, country resort, or similar facility” that would allow for various “low-intensity recre­ation” activities.  He noted that this would be consistent with the Mayflower Inn on Route 47, where the commis­sion has allowed spa and other resort-themed augmentations.

The commission didn’t offer any serious objections to Mr. Owen’s definition, nor did it resoundingly embrace it. Commission mem­ber Gary Fitzherbert, who voted in favor of Mr. Klauer’s plan for Wykeham Rise, said he wasn’t sure that the definition of an inn and one’s placement on a town road “needed to be discussed as one” issue.  In response, Mr. Owen indicated that he would prefer handling the matters congruently, particularly since he was the lone pro-vote for allowing inns on town roads,

Member Ralph Averill corrected Mr. Owen, saying the referenced vote “only changed the wording, not the regulation’s intent.” By that line of thinking, if the commis­sion soon permits inns, however they are defined, on town roads, it would be changing regulation’s wording and its intent.

As the process moves along, Mr. Owen thinks “we will at least be able to identify the areas of dis­agreement, and then try to work toward a proposal that the whole commission can live with.”  The Wykeham resort was denied 3 to 2 in December 2008, but when Ray Reich, who admit­tedly favored the resort proposal, replaced commissioner Valerie Friedman, who opposed the inn, via the November election, the issue was quickly revisited.  Mr. Klauer was present at the meeting Monday, but because there were no public hearing, audi­ence members were not permitted to participate in the discussion.

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