Neighbors opposed to plans to host events at a bed and breakfast on Fremont Street turned up in droves to voice their concerns to the Woodstock City Council Nov. 7.
The standing room-only council meeting stretched until after midnight, with residents expressing worries for more than three hours about cars, noise and inebriated guests swamping their neighborhood. On the other side were Lori and George Miarecki, owners of the Cherry Tree Inn, 344 Fremont St., who said they have no intention of turning the property, known locally as the Groundhog Day House, into a party house.
The Miareckis opened the Cherry Tree Inn, located at the intersection of Fremont and Madison streets, in September. In addition to running the home as a five-suite bed and breakfast, they also hope to host indoor and outdoor weddings and similar events.
The property had an existing special use permit, issued in 2008, which allowed it to hold gatherings of no more than 25 people. The Miareckis, who closed on the property in late August, asked the city to amend the permit to allow for larger gatherings — six yearly indoor events of no more than 60 people and eight yearly outdoor events of no more than 160 people.
The city’s Plan Commission voted 6-1 to recommend the City Council amend the permit, with a requirement that events end at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. on other days. The couple scaled back those plans during the council meeting, saying they were willing to compromise with neighbors and that most events would be smaller than the permit application’s upper attendance limit.
“Our desire to offer intimate, upscale, romantic weddings and events has always been an important aspect of our business plan. The type of clientele we will attract and accept are not the type to be disruptive to our neighbors,” George Miarecki wrote in an email. “… Our intention was never to have several large events of 160 people. That was included to encompass holding one or two charity events a year, as explained several times.”
The Cherry Tree Inn was built in the 19th century as a single-family home. In recent years, it has operated as a bed and breakfast. Its exterior was featured prominently in the 1993 film “Groundhog Day.”
Jill Hunt, a neighbor, said she was happy to see the property marketed to tourists but wanted to make sure her neighborhood maintained its quiet atmosphere.
“I think we have to remember that we are a neighborhood of family homes first. We are not a business district,” Hunt said. “The size of the events listed on this special agreement are really more suited for businesses that are on the Square. We are not an extension of the Square.”
Jack Walsdorf said he was concerned about raucous parties getting out of hand.
“As the night goes on, we will have to tolerate people stepping out of the party to enjoy a little marijuana or an amorous affair in their cars parked outside of our homes,” Walsdorf said.
But a few residents supported the plans. John Kunzie told the council the property would fall into disrepair if its current owners couldn’t operate it as a viable business.
“This whole issue takes a tremendous amount of capital on the part of people who are willing to do this sort of thing, and if they cannot develop the amount of money to support the operation, it will then become an eyesore, and we will have lost something,” Kunzie said.
In the end, the council voted 5-1 to approve part of the application, with Councilman Jim Prindiville voting no and Councilman Mark Saladin absent.
Under the terms approved by the council, the bed and breakfast will be allowed to hold six indoor events a year with no more than 60 participants each. All events will need to end by 9 p.m., and the Cherry Tree Inn will be required to provide shuttle service for any gatherings with more than 25 people in attendance.
The permit can be rescinded at any time.
Steve Jacobs, a neighbor who owns another “Groundhog Day” home popularly known as the Piano Teacher’s House, said he was disappointed in the council’s decision.
“We feel that the legislative body known as the City Council overstepped their bounds and elevated the rights of one private corporation over the rights of citizens, and that’s just not right,” Jacobs said.
Approval of a special use permit for outdoor events at the bed and breakfast will be considered at a later meeting. Before postponing the vote, council members and the Miareckis discussed placing additional restrictions on those events.
“We are excited to work with the community to clarify our plans and find a level that allows the public to fully enjoy this premier location and its beauty while not affecting the local neighborhood’s character and charm,” George Miarecki wrote.
The amended special use permit will be reviewed by the city in January 2019.