Westport inn owner withdraws liquor bid for now

Paquachuck Inn to regroup after zoners press parking, ‘club’ concerns

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 11/15/19

WESTPORT — It’s liquor license was approved by selectmen last spring, but a half year later, the Paquachuck Inn remains unable to serve thirsty visitors.

Events at an October 23 meeting of the …

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Westport inn owner withdraws liquor bid for now

Paquachuck Inn to regroup after zoners press parking, ‘club’ concerns

Posted

WESTPORT — It’s liquor license was approved by selectmen last spring, but a half year later, the Paquachuck Inn remains unable to serve thirsty visitors.

Events at an October 23 meeting of the town Zoning Board of Appeals indicate that the wait could drag on a good while longer.

After the board heard over an hour and a half of testimony on whether the inn (now a bed and breakfast) should be granted a zoning variance allowing it to operate as a 200-member club whose members could be served alcohol (no more than 44 people present at a time), things seemed not to be going well for the applicant.

The variance required a “super majority” — approval of four of the five voting members present — and several of those members had voiced concerns.

With a vote imminent, Philip Beauregard, attorney for inn owner Brenda Figuerido, got up and whispered to the town solicitor.

His client, he announced, wants to withdraw her petition without prejudice, an action that would allow her to return and pursue the variance at a later date. The move, he said, would giver her time “to exercise her options and either re-file or not file at all.”

The board voted unanimously to allow the withdrawal.

‘Club’ status and parking

Although selectmen had approved the liquor license 3-2 back in April after listening to strong support from neighbors, the inn also needs a zoning variance for the commercial activity in an area that is zoned residential.

Mr. Beauregard said his client is seeking affirmation of past zoning approvals of activities at the inn (in 1986, 1989 and 2011) and “the single thing we are looking to add is this all-alcohol service … We believe the clientele will be the people on the Point,” most of whom will be walking — “a damn nice walk” — so there would be little increase in demand for parking. The inn, he said, has nine parking spots of its own and access to others nearby. He added that the Point has a long history of commercial activity, as does the inn.

Serving alcohol, he said, would provide the owner with revenue to help maintain the aging building “which is very much in need of upgrading cosmetically” although his client has made significant improvements.

The inn is listed for sale at the moment, Mr. Beauregard, but his client intends to take it off the market shortly and make a success of it, something that would be a challenge if relying on income from bed and breakfast alone.

Board members, though, had questions about parking and about what sort of “club” this would be.

Is this club open to just people at the Point, board member Barbara Pontotolilo asked, or could anyone come in for a drink.

The inn could not limit the place to just people at the Point, Mr. Beauregard said. He said any limits would be more a result of occupancy limit (44), hours of operation, “and where it is — kind of out of the way.”

The what does “member” mean, board Chairman Roger Menard wanted to know. “At the license hearing, they were consistently saying this was going to be a 200-member private club.”

“The intention was to have a club-type operation,” replied attorney Dorothy Tongue, a place frequented by neighbors, not people coming from Horseneck Beach who had been drinking all day and were looking to “drop in to the Paquachuck and have six or seven more beers … “so it’s not strictly speaking a club,” she added.

“In that respect, its not different than any other lounge,” board member Gerard Coutinho said. “Anyone can come in off the street and partake as long as they don’t exceed 44 people.”

“So is it a club or is it not a club. I don’t understand what this club is,” Ms. Pontotolilo said.

We want to convey that it would be operated like a club but “no, it won’t meet the legal definition of a club.”

It would be more like a pub, Mr. Coutinho said, except that pubs serve food and the bed and breakfast is only allowed to serve breakfast.

“I have a lot of issues about parking,” Mr. Menard said. “Assuming that everybody is just going to walk there, I don’t believe is going to cut it. Nobody is going to walk in February to the inn from a half mile away.”

Mr. Menard also questioned the “hardship” involved — an applicant for a variance must demonstrate a hardship.

“The state of the building and the maintenance it requires to bring it up to par,” Mr. Beauregard said.

“As a bed and breakfast (alone) this doesn’t work,” Ms. Figuerido said. “I might have three people a night.”

But the hardship is not supposed to be merely financial, the chairman replied.

Board member Constance Gee spoke in support of the application.

While the area may be zoned residential, the Point itself is “a very commercial area” and the inn is a commercial enterprise.

“The building is a behemoth but it is a beautiful, historical behemoth and it would be a shame to lose a commercial enterprise in that building which has always been, with short intervals, used as a commercial property … It would be sad if we would stand on little technicalities to make it impossible for the owner to continue.”

“I don’t think this is all little technicalities,” Mr. Coutinho said.

“If you are going to look for faults on what has occurred in that neighborhood, there are lots of things that could be gone into,” Mr. Beauregard said.

When discussion was opened to the audience, Henry Swan said he lives four tenths of a mile north of the inn and he and his wife regularly enjoy walking down to the inn.

While he said his drinking days are done, he wants to see the inn flourish.

“What I’m afraid of if this is not granted that the Paquachuck will deteriorate just like what happened” to so many other businesses at the Point.

There is no other place for neighbors to meet at the Point except the Post Office, “and only for 15 minutes.”

Kristen Fennelly, owner with her husband of the Westport Sea Farms oyster tasting room at the Point (which serves beer and wine), said she is concerned by the language — “It’s really clear that nobody knows if it’s a club or a pub or what it is.”

She also said she is worried that the building is for sale — “We are gong to give this building a license that will carry on to whoever buys it.”

Board’s final comments

Although they never got to make a motion on approving or denying the request, several board members spoke before Ms. Figuerido withdrew her application.

Mr. Menard said he has “two big issues.”

First, Westport residents voted specifically not to allow this kind of activity — a bylaw forbids clubs from opening in residential zones. Mr. Coutinho said that testimony shows, though, that this would not be an actual club.

And “my final problem with this is parking, Mr. Menard said. If it’s not just for people in walking distance, then parking becomes a real issue.”

Mr. Coutinho suggested that no decision should be made until the applicant provides “an absolutely exact parking plan” that the board can review.

Further, “I just can’t see all these people going there to drink without food.” If the owner wants to eventually serve food, include that with the alcohol request — “Let us look at it as a whole thing, not piecemeal.”

Ms. Gee said she is in strong support of granting the variance, noting that many neighbors spoke in support when the matter was before the selectmen.

“It would be foolish of us as people who love Westport and the historical nature of it … to deny this so that the person who is trying to keep this lynchpin of a building going is unable to.” She added that forcing the applicant to “keep coming back and back becomes almost unfeasible.”

Ms. Pontotolilo said, “My only hesitation is the parking.”

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