Neighbors said they support a developer’s plans to revive the historic Colonial Inn, but they also have a lot of questions.
The plans for bringing back the 153 W. King St. inn are not finished, and Allied DevCorp LLC representative Justin Fejfar said most of the concerns — parking, among the biggest — can be resolved.
“I think most people in this room can probably speak to the history a lot better than I could and probably have personal experiences in the inn, so we’re certainly excited about revitalizing this property,” Fejfar said at a public hearing Thursday night.
The oldest sections are in the best shape, he said, noting that the newer kitchen and dining room need to be rebuilt.
“When you drive up on King Street and look at the front of the inn, by the time it’s done, it’s not going to look any different than what it does now, other than in a lot better condition,” Fejfar said. “We’re really going to great lengths and spending an awful lot of money to actually preserve it.”
The Hillsborough Town Board and its Planning Board held a joint the hearing, which requires a rezoning, and the Planning Board will take up the proposal again next month. The Town Board’s discussion will follow, and the town’s Historic District Commission must approve the exterior design and materials.
Allied DevCorp plans to renovate the two-story structure, which was built in 1838 and long served as a hotel and later a popular restaurant. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and a contributing structure in Hillsborough’s historic district.
State and federal tax credits could help offset some cost of restoring the inn.
The renovated Colonial Inn would offer a restaurant with a private dining room, a bar and a conference room on the ground floor. A larger event center and four guestrooms would be on the second floor.
A new, two-story wing would provide another 18 guestrooms at the rear of the lot and connect to the main building, a patio and landscaped wedding lawn via brick pathways. Fejfar noted the second building also could serve as a sound buffer with neighbors.
He estimated a maximum of 100 people could occupy the second-floor event center and at least 96 could be seated in the main dining room. It’s hard to say how many people at this point, he said, but the inn shouldn’t attract hundreds of people like it did in its heyday.
Stephanie Trueblood, the town’s public space manager, offered a word of caution. Despite its current state, she said, people still come by to photograph the Colonial Inn.
“There are people who have been contacting us for years wanting to know if it was ever going to be restored,” Trueblood said. “Having been the person fielding those calls for 13 years, I can tell you that if it actually gets restored, people will come, and it has the potential of being a real draw for [local and regional] tourism.”
Parking is a major issue, since there’s no room on the half-acre site and no driveway access.
The plan is to encourage guests to park in other downtown public and private lots, and offer valet service for a limited number of visitors, Fejfar said. They also are negotiating for spaces on the top level of the nearby Orange County parking deck. Those spaces are normally reserved for county employees, he said.
The project also could cost the town 10 on-street parking spaces. Some could be removed to create a wider, 10-foot sidewalk in front of the inn that’s accessible to people with disabilities. Others could be replaced with a loading zone for delivery trucks.
The loading zone would be available to any business’s delivery trucks, Planning Director Margaret Hauth said. Trueblood noted two existing West King Street loading zones are maxed out.
“We could use another loading zone,” Trueblood said. “We added one on Margaret Lane; that is fully maximized. Taking a 250-year-old town and trying to make it work for today’s size trucks is really hard.”
While he supports the project, neighbor Mike Gering questions the safety of putting a 96-foot loading zone across the street from the inn and beside his driveway. It’s already difficult to exit between parked cars, he said.
Gering suggested creating a loading zone in front of the inn.
“I don’t think it’s really easy to find anybody more anxious than we are to see the inn come back to life and make the downtown more lively,” he said. “It was a lively place when we moved in, in 1995, and we were sad to see it close.”
Margaret Lane neighbors, who live behind the inn, said they also are excited However, they want some assurances that the developers will protect their quality of life and privacy.
Noise, lighting and smells are key concerns, said Maria Flanagan and her neighbor Jean Masse. They also worry about guests peering in their windows from second-story rooms, and people using an uncontrolled easement behind the inn as a shortcut to the bar.
“I would ask that you put yourself in my shoes and ask you to consider what you would want to live beside and what you’d like to hear and see from your bedroom at night,” Flanagan said. “I’m convinced there’s a balance to achieve between the commercial use of an historic landmark and the residential homeowners’ quiet enjoyment of their properties.”
They will have to look at options, Fejfar said, but the live music will end outdoors by 9 p.m. and indoors by midnight. The bar would not stay open until 2 a.m. Soundproofing materials will be added to the building to help meet town noise rules.
The Colonial Inn renovation promises to end 17 years of neglect that started with former owner Francis Henry’s winning $440,000 bid at a 2001 auction. He and the town wrestled for years over repairs and how the property could be used, until the town filed for eminent-domain action in July 2014.
Allied DevCorp — a group that includes engineers, architects, and construction, restaurant and hospitality professionals — bought the Colonial Inn from Henry in January for $800,000.