Ridgefield discusses options for attracting hotels

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The zoning commission wants to make it easier for potential hotels or inns to open in the Main Street commercial area. So the panel has asked its staff to work up a potential regulation change that could open the Central Business District to “hospitality” operations.

“Stonehenge closed and The Elms closed and it became apparent there was just no hospitality in town, other than The West Lane Inn,” Planning and Zoning Commission chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said. “We used to have multiple options.”

In a discussion at the commission’s meeting earlier this month, Mucchetti wondered whether it was feasible for a town of Ridgefield’s size to attract a hotel.

Most commission members shared the view that the town could benefit from more places for people to stay — especially in the village.

With his involvement in the annual Rotary barbeque held at the Lounsbury House, commissioner Rich Vazzana said, out-of-town hotels would regularly reach out, seeking business with people coming to Ridgefield for the event.

“I don’t want to tell you how many hotels,” he said.

More rooms are needed in town, Vazzana said, noting that people coming to events in Ridgefield end up staying out of town. “We need something to keep them here,” Vazzana said.

Location matters

The idea of a hotel on the town-owned Community Center property — not in the Lounsbury House itself, but where there are two rental houses at the corner of Main Street and Market Street — was briefly explored, Mucchetti said.

“The property owners are the town. I wasn’t a part of these conversations,” she said. “My understanding was there was a conversation with Lounsbury House, and they liked the idea,” she said. “It’s a natural fit, they’re an events space.”

But the idea of a hotel on the town-owned community center property didn’t get very far.

“Conversations were also held with ACT and The Playhouse,” she said. “When they have performers coming in, there’s no place to stay in town.”

Mucchetti’s thought was that if the commission felt the town could benefit from some more hospitality operations, it should consider being a little proactive and making some changes in the regulations that would allow such businesses. Research suggested the best place would be Main Street, in or near the commercial area — the Central Business District or “CBD zone.”

She said the the town’s B-1 and B-2 business zones — found along Route 35 and Route 7, mostly — both allow “hotels, motels and inns,” but the CBD zone doesn’t.

“It’s not a major modification to the regulations,” Mucchetti said. “It would be adding two words under permitted uses in the CBD: ‘hotels or inns.’ ”

Commission skeptic

Commission member John Katz has expressed his discomfort with the idea that the commission is working on regulation changes in collaboration with someone from the industry.

“I’m in no way against hospitality in Ridgefield. I’m against the Planning and Zoning Commission become a shill for any kind of business,” said Katz. “…I don’t think we should initiate it.”

Talking to business people to promoting growth and attract development is the job of the Economic and Community Development Commission, Katz said.

Other commissioners seemed to feel his concern was misplaced and the concept is something that relates to their planning role.

“I do believe it’s a planning conversation,” said commissioner Charles Robbins. “It’s also an ECDC conversation.”

Muchetti said the idea could be developed over the commission’s month-long summer break “and discussed again.”

She said it’s a long term project.

“I think this is in the early stages,” Mucchetti said. “ I jsut wanted to get some direction from the commission: Is this something we’d like to look at? And the consensus was, it was. And so we’ll move forward.”