The Washington Town Council approved the reclassification of the former Heritage House property on Main Street from bed and breakfast to hotel at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday (Aug. 13).
By definition, a bed and breakfast can have no more than five rentable rooms; new owner Jim Abdo’s plans to convert the property’s Ice House cottage into a sixth room forced him to reclassify the business.
Abdo was seeking a special-use permit to begin his renovations. The council unanimously approved his request (with Alice Butler absent and Gary Schwartz, who sold the property to Abdo’s Inn at the Ridge partnership, abstaining) – after Abdo agreed to the condition that there be a full-time, live-in innkeeper present to run the facility whenever paying guests are present.
The council said it believed that full-time help would be a necessity for the hotel. As Mayor John Sullivan and several other council members – including Mary Ann Kuhn, owner of the Middleton Inn – pointed out, no one can be sure when guests will arrive at a hotel, especially in this age of constantly changing online bookings. It simply wouldn’t be feasible to only have part-time employees on-call around the clock in case something went wrong or a reservation changed.
Zoning administrator John McCarthy said that he realizes this could be a burden on Abdo, but agreed with the council that it was “a burden . . . protective of the town’s best interests.”
That potential burden was lessened slightly when the council agreed that having someone there when there were no guests was unnecessary. Abdo, a well-known developer in Washington, D.C., said he intends not to charge any family members – or other potential guests who simply won’t fit in his part-time home in Woodville – to stay there, and said he didn’t think anyone should be required to be there unless the guests are actual paying customers.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here,” Abdo told the council. “We’re honestly just excited to be members of this community and are looking forward to adding to it however we can.”
Sullivan thanked Abdo for his time and then called to order the continuation of a joint council-planning commission meeting to discuss modifications to the town’s comprehensive plan. Sullivan noted that the council had previously discussed the possibility of “in-filling” (developing on vacant land) and noted the strictness of the town’s zoning laws.
Among other requirements, those laws require that new structures generally be at least 25 feet from the road, which, as McCarthy pointed out, usually isn’t in line with the surrounding buildings and can create a “gaptooth look.”
When asked by the council for suggestions, McCarthy replied that the town could apply for a special permit which would allow them to build in line with the current structure line, but said the easiest thing to do would be to revise the comprehensive plan – something the town has to do every five years and the subject of discussion at the last two joint monthly meetings – to explicitly “encourage in-fill development.”
A public hearing on the comprehensive plan revision is set for the town council’s next meeting Sept. 10.