'Charm' offensive: B&B proponents say plan would be an asset to town
Updated 5:43 pm, Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Coke Anne and Jarvis Wilcox moved into an antique house at 25 Turkey Hill Road South in 1986. It was a residence for their family, but they have since moved to another home not far away.
The Wilcoxes are renting the Turkey Hill home to another family now, but their ultimate goal is to open a bed-and-breakfast there -- if they can convince town officials to amend zoning regulations that would then allow guest house/tourist home use in a historic residential structure. An even more daunting prospect, however, would appear to be winning over Greens Farms neighbors, who at earlier public meetings where the Wilcox plan has come up, have expressed strong opposition.
The earliest part of the house dates back to 1813 with a pre-fabricated pattern house addition made circa 1865. A plaque at the front entrance identifies it as the Arthur C. Taylor house.
The Wilcoxes' attempt on Jan. 8 to win support from the Historic District Commission for the zoning amendment failed, but the Planning and Zoning Commission will take the crucial vote on the proposal. A public hearing on the matter has been continued to the P&Z's Feb. 7 meeting.
A number of people spoke against the plan at the Historic District Commission's meeting.
Art Schoeller, president of the Greens Farms Association, said the neighborhood is concerned about "creeping commercialization" the B&B could bring to the area. "These are transition areas. In essence, residential zones that abut commercial zones are fair game ... This residential neighborhood is already under intense commercialization pressure," he said.
Susan Teicher, a Turkey Hill Road South resident, said, "The idea of having a bed and breakfast without the owner living there is a very scary notion."
Sharon Sullivan worried about extra traffic she fears the inn could generate. "There's not a lot of lighting. There's no sidewalks. Add that to people unfamiliar with the neighborhood," she said of her safety concern.
Others oppose the proposal because, if the amendment were adopted, it would not apply solely to the Wilcox property, but also would open other sections of town to similar ventures.
The Wilcoxes' house sits on property that was once an onion farm, according to the Wilcoxes, and it once was a dormitory that had 10 rooms upstairs, they said. The couple renovated the house, taking down walls to create "larger, more gracious rooms," and added other architectural features.
"Our goal here is to offer the neighborhood a guest house for their use, for their enjoyment," Coke Anne Wilcox said.
"The house is a historical one with a perfect plan/layout for an inn," she said. And the location, she said, is ideal because Turkey Hill South is the main road from the Post Road to the Greens Farms Railroad Station. It also is just two miles from the beach, a five-minute walk to a deli and not far from Balducci's and the Westport County Playhouse, she said.
The configuration of the home's entrance hall and pass-through windows into the living room would serve as the registration area, she said. The current dining room is large enough for the mess area, and the library would be converted into the caretaker's room. The third floor would contain Pilates' mats and other exercise features for guests. The property also has an in-ground swimming pool. It would have three guest bedrooms.
The inn would have a generator and could serve displaced residents who lose power during storms as has occurred for protracted periods in the wake of severe storms in the last few years, Coke Anne Wilcox said.
While detractors have faulted the plan for commercial encroachment in the neighborhood, traffic and safety problems, and the regular turnover of strangers coming into the area to stay at the inn, there are proponents who think the concept is solid. Some say a B&B would be a charming, low-impact addition to the neighborhood that once supported Martha Stewart's empire. Others say it would generate tourist interest and revenue for the town.
The B&B could add to Westport's charm as a tourist destination, Coke Ann Wilcox said, pointing out that one of the goals of the town plan is to promote tourism. Another town goal, through the HDC, is to preserve historic houses, she said.
"I love the idea of a bed and breakfast at 25 Turkey Hill. It's a lovely property and could be a real gem for Westport as a top bed and breakfast. When I first heard of it, I thought of my father who loves to stay at quaint, smaller inns rather than bigger less impersonal places," said Sarah Adair, who lives in the neighborhood. "I don't see it creating any more intrusion or activity into the neighborhood than is already present with nannies, housekeepers, personal trainers, personal assistants, laundry pick-up and delivery, contractors, builders, or property maintenance workers, etc.," she said.
Adair said a similar arrangement exists in the Compo Beach area of town where private homeowners live in proximity to the Inn at Longshore, which has 12 guest rooms.
"Many people, when they visit Westport are looking for a small and intimate place to stay and Westport does not currently offer it. A B&B in town would be a nice, charming and old fashioned alternative to a hotel and would give visitors a better idea or flavor of what it is like to live in Westport," said Westport lawyer Brad M. Aron, who has represented the Wilcoxes on other issues, but not for this proposal.
"I think Westport has lost some of its old fashion charm with all of the changes we have seen over the last 20 years. It would be nice to see something old fashioned return to town ... There would be nothing more intimate and smaller than staying in a B&B in town," he said.
At the recent HDC meeting, one Turkey Hill South resident said "the idea of having a bed and breakfast without the owner living there is a very scary notion." Two to four employees, including an on-site manager, would staff the three-bedroom bed-and-breakfast at the house, but the Wilcoxes do not plan to live on site.
Naiad Einsel, a neighbor and friend of the Wilcoxes, said those concerns are unfounded. "I know they would run it very nicely and they would hire good people. They've lived here for a while. They care about this neighborhood. They wouldn't want to bring it down," Einsel said.