Worship And A B&B

If you’re one of the 99 percent (the Westporters who left town for the schools’ winter break last week — haha, the weather was gorgeous!), or simply haven’t read the local papers in a month or so, there are a couple of stories you may have missed.

Both involve Westport’s most contentious subject: dogs bad drivers zoning.

The first is in the planning stages. Jarvis and Coke Anne Wilcox own an 1813 home on 25 Turkey Hill South that they hope to convert to a 3-room B&B. They’ve owned it since 1986, and rent it out — they live in another home not far away — but in a “dismal” real estate market, the couple believe a small B&B makes more sense.

The Wilcoxes owned a Hamptons inn (as opposed to a Hampton Inn) from 1992 to 2008.

The potential B&B at 25 Turkey Hill South.

A text amendment is needed to permit a B&B in a residential zone. The last such establishment like it here  was the Cotswold Inn, at 76 Myrtle Avenue. Surrounded by residences, as well as medical and law offices in converted homes — not far from Town Hall and the Westport Historical Society — the Cotswold Inn was such a low key presence, many Westporters had no idea it was here.

On the other hand, it was so quiet many others don’t realize it closed years ago.

The Wilcoxes hope their B&B will be similar to the Cotswold Inn: a low-key, low-impact spot that will nevertheless provide work for a few folks, and bring tourist dollars to town.

Meanwhile, across the river, another zoning battle looms. Beit Chaverim Synagogue hopes to move from its rented quarters on 85 Post Road West — in a small house just down from Lincoln Street — across the street and up the hill, to property it owns at 24 Ludlow Road. They would raze the structure — built in 1868 — and build a new synagogue.

The potential Beit Chaverim synagogue at 24 Ludlow Road.

The issue here is not zoning. All places of worship are located in residential zones, says attorney Lawrence Weisman. (I thought I had him on the Saugatuck Congregational Church, but he pointed out that the back part of the property extends into a residential area.)

The issue here is parking. Beit Chaverim has a “positive traffic study,” Weisman says, and offered to request that “No Parking” signs be posted on the street. They’ll also request a “Left Turn Only” sign at the exit, forcing traffic to the Post Road and not north to King’s Highway, and will arrange for off-site parking during peak holiday and event times.

Neighbors are skeptical. They worry about overflow parking on the narrow street. A related issue involves current parking regulations for houses of worship, new ones proposed by Weisman, and what power the fire marshal should have in determining parking standards for churches and synagogues.

As with all things zoning, both the B&B and Beit Chaverim are a long way from opening the doors to their new homes. Chances are good, though, that you’ll read much more about both issues in the months ahead.

30 responses to “Worship And A B&B

  1. B&B is just one unintended consequence of McMansions. The other is apartment houses. It happened in Queens and resulted in a dramatic density increase. Do we really need to bring tourists to town? What’s the benefit to citizens? Less parking on Main Street?

  2. Large old houses- and possibly now, new houses – used to be routinely broken up into apartments, rooming houses and such. They were considered too big for nuclear families, and too expensisve to heat and maintain. (Sound familiar?) They used to be called white elephants. I have often wondered if our McMansions would become McElephants in some cases.

  3. We live in an era where rules and regulations are for suckers. I can appreciate Mr. Weisman advocating on his client’s behalf. Let’s hope the P&Z advocates on their clients behalf and holds firm on maintaining consistent and fair zoning for all Westport real estate owners – not just the select few with development dreams.

    The last P&Z made it clear it was open season on changing zoning laws, and the result was an ongoing flood of requests to do so. I eagerly await the new P&Z’s leadership on these issues- they were very vociferous during the campaign – crickets since.

  4. How’d you miss this one regarding the parking needs of the Beit Chaverim Synagogue?

    Orthodox Jews (Which is what the congregants of Beit Chaverim are) are prohibited by tenants of their religion from driving on religious holidays, including the Sabbath; they must walk. As a result they would not be using cars and creating issues with parking.

  5. Response to Anonymous

    Regarding the parking and not driving: The synagogue is open to any faction of people and their personal level of religious observance. Many walk but many more drive. There is no Beit Chaverim law that prohibits attendants from driving. Most modern orthodox synagogues would follow that today.

  6. Parking is definitely going to be a problem here.

  7. Dick Lowenstein

    Let’s wait to see if the Wilcoxes offer a B&B text amendment and what it proposes. Current P&Z regulations allow for up to 6 unrelated boarders in a residence, but not for transients (i.e., hotel residents). As for the Cotswold Inn, it was an illegal B&B….and that’s one reason why it closed.

    • Thanks, Dick. I remember the Cotswold Inn opening to a burst of publicity — and it was open for a while. Any insights or recollections into how it was able to open, and stay open for a while, though illegal?

      • I’m certain that Dick’s wife, Ellie, could provide you with the reason, Dan. It’s been an “open” secret for many years: Zoning enforcement officials (ZEOs) are the only municipal employees in CT who are subject to PERSONAL liability by state statute for their actions. [In fact, they are subject to “treble” (triple) damages.] As a result, ZEOs are extremely hesitant to assess penalties for zoning violations, and municipalities – even Westport – cannot effectively enforcing local zoning regulations.

  8. It’s a shame that another historic house will be torn down.

  9. The Cotswold Inn was charming. I would often have out of town clients stay there. Why would anyone be against this type of use? Ask the neighbors of the Cotswold if they were ever bothered.

  10. there was a long list of “owed Taxes” and the Synagogue owed a great deal. Perhaps that should be cleared up first before they proceed.

  11. Slightly off-topic: Dan, are you familiar with AirBnB.com? It showcases private homes with guest rooms available for travelers.Type in “Westport CT” and you’ll be amazed with the result.

  12. Also one on Ambler Road

  13. We live in the town homes on Ludlow. If only three cars come down Ludlow heading to the Post, we wait for the light to change just to get out of our entrance…I can’t imagine how bad this will be for our residents just trying to get out when “forcing traffic to the post road” is in effect.

  14. To JWRB – I, too, read the list of taxpayer deadbeats in the Westport News, and had the same thought about Beit Chaverim’s parking amendment. I’d like to see a P&Z text amendment that requires that all applicants for special permits, zoning amendments, text amendments, site plan approvals, etc. must be current on their property tax payments to the town in order to proceed with their applications. Why should deadbeats receive any consideration at all when the rest of us are having to make up for the shortfall in tax revenues and pay their tab to keep the town and schools functioning? Every property owner should have to pay their fair share in order to have a fair hearing by the town commissions and their neighbors.
    In other words, you’ve gotta pay to play.

    To Anonymous at 7:52 a.m. – I, too, eagerly await the new P&Z’s leadership on all these zoning and text amendments… and think a lot of people are in for a rude awakening. It’s about time.

  15. Oh please. You’re absurd.

  16. It is as clear as day that trying to change the parking regulations is a last ditch effort by Mr. Weissman to get around the fact that Beit Chaverim’s parking needs cannot be accommodated at 24 Ludlow. So, in effect, we’re changing the law to accommodate one applicant! Why should we even be hearing the Beit Chaverim case when they are in arrears on their taxes?? And does Mr. Weissman suggest that tax paying residents of Ludlow and the rest of Westport bear the cost of putting up No Parking signs for an applicant that owes taxes???
    Finally, we all know that the town of Westport is petrified of being sued by Beit Chaverim if they turn down the application. Beit Chaverim has said they will sue the town of Westport based on the Reloopa Law (sp?) that states that any religious institution can be built anywhere. LET’S TAKE THAT CARD OFF THE TABLE. We all acknowledge that Beit Chaverim and any other house of worship has the right to build/worship anywhere that accommodates their congregant numbers. The P+Z should have the guts to stand up for the citizens of Westport and not hide behind Reloopa.

  17. Before making statements about RILUPA maybe you should look up what it actually says…

  18. Kimberly Lake sent this letter to the P&Z, regarding proposed Text Amendment 645:

    I urge the Commission to defer a final decision on Amendment #645 in order to fully consider the potential impact of the change on all community gathering places, including schools, because it is not clear that the proposed single standard addresses capacity issues for public safety purposes. Thus, I hope the P&Z continues its investigation into the matter and, subsequently, is able to articulate a public policy reason for making a change relating to all community gathering places with fixed and unfixed seating, and not just out from a need arising from one applicant.

    Regarding the Town Attorney’s concern that the current standard exposes the Town to potential RILUPA litigation, it is important to remember that in order for the Town of Westport to be sued under RILUPA, a litigant MUST HAVE STANDING. At the first hearing on this matter, Mr. Weisman noted that he has two religious clients, one of them being Beit Chaverim at 24 Ludlow, who would benefit from the change. Yet his client at 24 Ludlow has ALREADY received P&Z approval to build a place of worship in a previously approved plan. Given that fact, where’s the risk that the Town of Westport has demonstrated religious discrimination? I believe under this fact pattern, it would be difficult for a court to find standing to sue for that applicant. Where is “the land use regulation” that Westport would be imposing UNDER ITS CURRENT REGULATION that “imposes a substantial burden” on an individual’s freedom of religion if they have granted Beit Chaverim an opportunity already to build a house of worship with different architectural plans?

    The bottom line is: this proposed amendment is designed to do an “end run” around a zoning regulation that ties directly to a government interest, namely public safety, which RILUPA also acknowledges as a valid counterbalance to land use regulations which affect freedom of religion. Public safety, with respect to the proposed amendment, relates to establishing an adequate formula for determining adequate parking. If the amendment is approved as proposed, it opens the door for the Town of Westport to be sued for NOT providing adequate public safety standards as this applicant could apply the change in the regulation to build a facility larger than the lot can support parking for in a residential neighborhood that does not have overflow capacity and on a street that is substandard in size and already burdened by other traffic burdens. That’s just this particular case. The consequences of changing the regulation without thinking through other potential applications, such as schools, puts public safety at risk. Please do not rush to decide. Please consider alternatives.

  19. Why on earth wouldn’t we want our fire marshall making these decions in the interest of public saftey? Is there an upside to stripping him of this duty? I’d love to hear it. Makes zero sense to make an across the board judgement on parking for all facities based on seats, as entrance/and egress routes all differ depending on location. Really silly to consider taking a public saftey expert out of this equation. I imagine the liabity on the town and synagogue should be of concern in asking for, and being granted such an idiotic amendment.

  20. Except that the fire marshal does not, under the regulations, make any decisions about auditoriums, movie theaters, or stadiums. The fire marshal still has the responsibility of approving the site plan for the entrance and egress as you say. But he doesn’t decide how many parking spots are required for any other type of building besides houses of worship which is, simply, illegal.

  21. I would counter that the difference is that houses of worship are in residential areas, unlike auditoriums, move theaters, or stadiums. Perhaps language should be changed to say that the fire marshal will make decisions regarding gathering areas that are located in residential areas. I’d be happy with that, as concern for the safety of all our town residents should be foremost? Can’t really argue with that.

  22. Does the fire marshal currently have authority over things like this when people build homes in residential areas? I hope you would also be willing to cede that responsibility as well-especially since residents of Westport seem to have no problem parking on the sides of streets, on the grass, etc. when they have parties at their homes.

    • If my soon to be built McMansion on a one acre parcel was an intended home to weekly large group & holiday gatherings, sure bring on the fire marshal.
      A single family residence & weekly community gathering center should have different criteria. Call me crazy.

  23. Yes, you should have different parking criteria-you only need a driveway and a 3 car garage or whatever while a house of worship needs a lot more parking spaces. But can/should the fire marshal demand that you have more parking in your driveway based on the number of people who could *possibly* fit in your home, or based on the normal number of occupants? Or should the *P&Z* be able to determine what the proper number of parking spaces should be based on the fire marshal’s recommendation of what the normal occupancy of the building is? That is what this amendment is about. Nobody is denying that a house of worship requires a lot more parking than a residential home.