A permit to allow Foster Harris House to double its dinner service to 20 seatings was unanimously approved by the Washington Town Council after a public hearing where most of the 20 town and county citizens present expressed either support or concern.
The hearing ran 90 minutes on the proposed modification of Foster Harris’ existing special permit, to allow new owner Klaus Peters to have up to two seatings (up to 20 persons) in the B&B’s small 10-seat dining room.
Peters started off the hearing by explaining his motivation to expand his dining endeavor, “to still offer excellent food and personalized service, in a small setting at a reasonable price so that local people have an opportunity to come here . . . not just on their birthday or anniversary.”
Town resident and planning commission member Gail Swift started off public comment in support. “I absolutely support the two seatings. It’s only going to add to the community . . . but on a personal level, we [Peters and I] connected after 20 years, we used to work together, I know this man, personally, professionally — and what he says he’s going to do will be incredible.”
Former council member Jean Goodine asked: “With these two seatings, will one be the gourmet high-priced one, and the other one for residents?”
Peters replied: “I may consider doing the weekends for the people looking for the gourmet treat, but during the week have two seatings of excellent food and dining experience at a low cost.”
Audrey Regnery supported the modification: “I’m a bed and breakfast owner, I think this is a wonderful idea… this is a benefit to the town and the county.”
But former council member Ray Gooch, who lives near Foster Harris in the west end of town, expressed his concern: “I don’t want to rain on your parade, Klaus, but I have a lawyer-like problem with what you are planning. . . . The ordinance [states] ‘By a special use permit, a bed and breakfast establishment may serve meals to guests and non-guests, but in no greater number, for each meal seating, than the number of permitted rooms.’”
After 15 minutes of other comments, town attorney John Bennett, referring to the ordinance in front of him, said: “It’s clear to me the number of seatings had never been limited by council, however the number at each seating is limited.”
Eventually, Gooch withdrew his opposition, because he had mistakenly been reading from a 2008 version of the town’s zoning ordinance, while Bennett was quoting from the ordinance as updated in 2014.
“For whatever reason you had the wrong thing, what you have provoked is a very good conversation,” said Mayor John Sullivan, “which also a legal one, also a substantive one and a theoretical one. . . . And it’s clear there is some confusion …
“I strongly have always believed that this town needs more people, more economic activity, and for a lack of a better word, more energy,” Sullivan added. “I happen to think it’s a good idea and would make a motion that we support this SUP [special use permit].”
After 20 minutes of further discussion of conditions added to the permit — including a review one year from now — Sullivan’s motion was seconded by treasurer Jerry Goebel and passed, 7-0.
To a room full of applause, Peters thanked the crowd: “Real quickly, for all your life you make so many decisions, some of them excellent, some of them not so good — but coming here, making the decision to come to this beautiful town, was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m so grateful to the town council, I’m grateful for you coming here, spending your evening to support me, and I’m not going to let you down.”
In other business the council tabled the possible authorization of a public hearing for a draft ordinance to address P to P rentals (nee AirBnBs) to its next meeting April 9.