Coke Anne Wilcox, the Greens Farms woman who had sought approval from town boards in recent months for a zoning text amendment to allow bed-and-breakfast establishments in residential neighborhoods, has decided to abandon her plan to open an inn at her Turkey Hill Road South home.
However, Wilcox is considering submitting a revised version of the proposal that retains the central objective of her original proposal: to allow certain historic residential structures in town to be used as guest houses or tourist homes.
"These types of establishments lend themselves to the success of this community and would improve the economy of the town," Wilcox told the Westport News on Monday.
The modified text amendment would also include several significant changes, according to Wilcox. It would require that a bed-and-breakfast owner live on the premises and only historic homes within a quarter-mile of Post Road East would be eligible to be converted into a bed-and-breakfast. The earlier version of the text amendment did not have a residency requirement for owners and permitted a B&B in historic homes within a quarter-mile of Post Road East, Interstate 95 or the Merritt Parkway.
Wilcox's revised text amendment would also set a cap of three lodging establishments in historic residential structures in Westport; the original version of the amendment had a six-inn limit.
If approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the prospective revisions to Text Amendment 652 would establish the zoning framework for an applicant to open a B&B establishment in a qualifying historic residential structure in town.
Wilcox said she will decide whether or not to resubmit the text amendment after she researches the history of inns in Westport and the zoning regulations associated with such establishments. Between 1930 and 1962, hotels were allowed in residential zones in Westport, according to a memo by Michelle Perillie, a planner in the P&Z Department.
The P&Z held an aborted review of Text Amendment 652 during a Feb. 7 public hearing; within minutes of the start of a public hearing for the amendment, Wilcox withdrew it. In a handwritten letter delivered during the meeting to P&Z Director Larry Bradley, she said she planned to resubmit the text amendment "in the future" to the town's Historic District Commission. That panel rejected the bed-and-breakfast plan last month, but its decision on the amendment is only advisory.
Text Amendment 652 sparked strong opposition from many Greens Farms neighborhood residents, who argue that the plan by Coke Anne Wilcox and her husband Jarvis Wilcox to open a bed-and-breakfast establishment in their antique home at 25 Turkey Hill Road South would have created an unwanted and inappropriate commercial encroachment in a residential area. Dozens of town residents, including many from the Greens Farms area, signed a petition opposing the Wilcoxes' proposal.
A number of them told the Westport News that they were pleased that Wilcox was no longer pursuing plans for a B&B at 25 Turkey Hill Road South.
"I'm grateful for her decision in consideration of the fact that historical preservation includes the preservation of neighborhoods as well as individual homes," said John Suggs, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 5, which includes 25 Turkey Hill Road South. "I think her decision is wise and most welcome."
Dewey Loselle, another RTM member from District 5, expressed a similar viewpoint.
"This proposed use was never appropriate for the neighborhood, was an unwanted intrusion and there was no justification for allowing the requested zoning changes under our town's regulations," he said.
Despite the criticism of their B&B plan for 25 Turkey Hill Road South, the Wilcoxes do not appear to be deterred from their goal of eventually opening a bed-and-breakfast inn in Westport. If a revised version of Text Amendment 652 were passed by the P&Z, the Wilcoxes said they would explore opening a B&B at another site. The Clapboard Hill Road home in which they reside would not meet the requirements of the proposed changes to Text Amendment 652. They do not own any other properties in town, aside from their Clapboard Hill Road and Turkey Hill Road South houses.
Coke Anne Wilcox described her envisioned B&B as a "luxury, boutique" establishment, which would charge about $300 a night for a room. It would cater principally to "past, present and future Westporters," not tourists without ties to the town, she said.
If the Wilcoxes or another applicant were to seek P&Z approval to open a B&B at another property in the Greens Farms area, such a proposal would likely encounter renewed opposition from neighborhood residents.
"The removal of I-95 and Merritt Parkway areas does not change anything," Art Schoeller, president of the Greens Farms Association, said of Wilcox's possible changes. "This is still a commercial operation in a residential zone. Our residential areas that abut the Post Road are under constant pressure of creeping commercialization. This filing in concept would still define those residential properties within a quarter mile of the Post Road as being in a `transition area.' "
The Wilcoxes have owned 25 Turkey Hill Road South since 1986 and currently lease it.
From 1992 to 2008, the Wilcoxes owned the Maidstone Arms in East Hampton, N.Y. The Greek Revival-style inn was renamed c/o The Maidstone after its acquisition by Swedish hotelier Jenny Ljungberg. The Maidstone Arms operated in a residential area, according to the Wilcoxes.
"An inn is a residential use; it is not commercial," Coke Anne Wilcox added. "It's high-density residential. It is something that happens in all of the states surrounding Connecticut. Why can you do this in Nantucket, in East Hampton, in Newport and you can't do it here?"
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