WESTERLY — After months of private meetings with neighbors to address their concerns about past and future operations, the owners of the Weekapaug Inn are looking to move forward with plans for a new 78-seat conference center and two new one-bedroom hotel suites.
The Zoning Board of Review conducted a public hearing on the plans Thursday that lasted more than three hours. The hearing is scheduled to resume on Feb. 6.
The Weekapaug Inn and Cottages LLC is planning a conference center with a footprint of 3,057 square feet and hotel suites with a combined footprint of 2,560 square feet. Thomas J. Liguori Jr., the company's lawyer, said neighboring property owners have raised concerns about noise, hours of operation, occupancy, the number of outdoor events, traffic, and how to enforce conditions that the company might agree to. Some of their concerns related to past operations and some were related to the new construction.
Liguori said Thursday that the company had reached an agreement with the owners of 26 properties represented by a Providence lawyer, Christopher Mulhearn, and was close to an agreement with a property owner represented by attorney George Comolli, of Westerly.
Liguori asked the board to consider adopting provisions of the agreements as conditions for approval for the inn's application for modifications to the special permit it originally obtained in 2007. By adopting provisions of the agreement as conditions for approval, Liguori said the board would ensure that they remain in place regardless of whether the property is sold.
While Mulhearn's clients could seek to intervene in court if the inn violated its agreement with them, Liguori said, Weekapaug property owners who are not party to the agreement would be protected by the board's approval of its provisions.
Zoning Officer Nathan Reichert said: "It's an amazing facility. From staff's perspective, the addition of this conference center allows for one of the most important pieces of our Comprehensive Plan, which is expansion of our ability to have more shoulder-season and more year-round activities" in Westerly.
Increasing the inn's ability to operate year-round would also benefit the local economy by stabilizing the facility's workforce, Reichert said.
An architect, engineer, and sound expert all testified that the proposed conference center and hotel suites incorporate design elements intended to mitigate potential effects on neighbors. The conference center itself is expected to serve as a barrier, which would block sound generated by bands performing at the two summer weddings the inn is permitted to host each summer, said Tim Foulkes, an acoustic engineer with Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, the Sudbury, Mass., firm hired as a consultant by Weekapaug Inn and Cottages.
In response to another concern raised by neighbors, the inn also agreed, Liguori said, to have deliveries of supplies in large trucks rerouted to a central location and transferred to "small vans or neighborhood friendly vehicles" and to limit the time of when those deliveries are made at the inn. Delivery vehicles would not be allowed to idle at the inn, and the facility would also impose limits on when garbage is picked up, Liguori said. Neighbors had complained of large trucks backing out onto Spray Rock Road, Liguori said.
Matthew Arrants of the Pinnacle Group of Boston, a hotel and hospitality consultant hired by the inn, said that "meeting space is the most typical way of generating demand in the off season." The conference center envisioned for the inn would likely attract "Fortune 50" "C-suite" executives, he said, including CEOs and chief financial and operating officers.
Liguori said the conference center would only be used as such during the off season. During the summer it would be used only by inn guests or for Weekapaug community events, he said.
The Weekapaug Inn, after extensive rennovations, reopened in 2012. Charles Royce and Langdon Wheeler, principals of Weekapaug Inn & Cottages LLC, bought it from James and Dee Dee Buffum, fourth generation operators of the property, in April 2010.