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Easton Porter meets Ram Island neighbors

JULIE LANE PHOTO Ram’s Head Inn co-owner Linda Eklund and Easton Porter representative Michael Donovan responded to neighbors’ questions about proposed renovations and Mr. Donovan deferred some questions to a second meeting to be scheduled with neighbors, probably in September.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Ram’s Head Inn co-owner Linda Eklund and Easton Porter representative Michael Donovan responded to neighbors’ questions Wednesday about proposed renovations at the Inn.

Close to 20 Ram Island residents got answers to some of their concerns on Wednesday about projected Ram’s Head Inn renovations. The two-hour informational meeting included Michael Donovan, a principal of the Easton Porter Group that is contemplating purchasing the property.

Easton Porter is a Virginia-based company operating high-end hotels and restaurants,  specializing in wedding parties and other events in Virginia and South Carolina.

If anyone was anticipating a fiery encounter based on comments that went back and forth between Ms. Eklund and an attorney for the Ram Island Association prior to the meeting, the session was respectful on all sides.

Mr. Donovan told residents that questions he couldn’t answer would be submitted to Easton Porter’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Dean Porter Andrews. Mr. Andrews, residents were told, would be at a subsequent meeting to respond directly.

If neighbors can’t be won over to support the plan, Easton Porter would not do the deal, Mr. Donovan said.  The company won’t get into a lawsuit with the neighbors, he added.

Among the critical questions posed was whether there were plans to build staff housing directly across the street from the Inn on land owned by Linda and James Eklund, who have had the Inn and property for 38 years.

Mr. Donovan said he had not heard of any such plans. Ms. Eklund said she was surprised that subject would even be on the table since it had never been discussed with Mr. Andrews or Eastman Porter’s creative director, Lynn Easton.

A question was asked if Easton Porter would be willing to sign an agreement not to build staff housing. That would be a question Mr. Andrews would have to address, Mr. Donovan said, while telling the group there were no plans to do so.

Ms. Eklund said she thought the town wouldn’t allow a staff house on that property, which is  currently zoned for residential use. Staff housing would require a commercial zone.

JULIE LANE PHOTO Signs provided by the Ram Island Association protesting the proposal line the roadway along Ram Island Drive.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Signs by the Ram Island Association protesting the proposal line the roadway along Ram Island Drive.

But there was discussion about using half the space of the approximately 2-acre area across the street for parking with a dedicated walkway leading across the street to the Inn.

Failure to  create parking across the street would be a deal breaker for Easton Porter, Mr. Donovan said. The company wouldn’t be willing to chance the liability of an accident that both Eklunds said they have been fortunate enough to avoid during their stewardship of the Inn.

The parking area and lights of the Inn would all be “dark skies” compliant as required by code, the attendees were told. Many wedding guests would be bused in as they have been during the Eklunds’ management.

Those flying into the area would land in East Hampton, it was stated, and since the Eklunds have operated the Inn, they have accommodated only a few seaplanes at one of the Inn’s moorings.

Ms. Eklund said she doesn’t have many wedding parties in July and August, pricing them to discourage those bookings, and Mr. Donovan said he expected it would be the same for Easton Porter.

Water use is another critical issue for the neighbors who fear there would be increased water used at the Inn.

The Eklunds have their water tested once a month and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services does its own testing and would not allow more water use, Mr. Eklund said.

Mr. Donovan explained that plans to install a new nitrogen-reducing septic system would help protect the aquifer and the water use should not be any more than it currently is because Easton Porter plans to have the same number of guest rooms currently in the main building and the same number of weddings —20 to 24 — that the Eklunds host each year. Most of those are on weekends, although there have been occasional weddings during the week.

Ms. Eklund said the weddings she’s planned have generally involved up to 140 guests with an occasional wedding at up to 210 guests, while the Easton Porter representative said high-end weddings would be for fewer than 225 guests. Mr. Donovan said he didn’t envision more than a single wedding on a weekend.

No tents would be used and while wedding ceremonies could be outside, receptions and music would be inside the Inn and the patio area would be enclosed to contain the sound.

The restaurant that seats 120 would be reduced to 70 as a trade-off to accommodate the spa. Water would be trucked in for the pool as required by the Town Code.

The changes the Easton Porter Group want are designed to bring the Inn up to standards that guests expect these days — private bathrooms, use of a pool and spa and an upscale restaurant.

Food and other deliveries would be no more than they are now, Ms. Eklund said, explaining that there may be more goods on a truck, but the  number of trucks making deliveries wouldn’t change.

A questioner asked if Reich/Eklund, the construction firm in which James Eklund is a partner, would do the work if Easton Porter obtained permission to build?

“I would have a very hard time ripping this place apart,” Mr. Eklund said.

Ms. Eklund said she and her husband would be consultants to Easton Porter for two or three years.

“I love this building,” Ms. Eklund said. If her children had an interest in running the Inn, she would keep it, but they have gone in other directions with their lives, she added.

The Eklunds turned down an offer last year from a buyer who wanted to raze the building and put up something Ms. Eklund said she considered unattractive.

A few years ago, a group of Ram Island neighbors offered $6 million to purchase the Inn and turn it into a private club. Ms. Eklund said the price was too low, but wouldn’t reveal what Easton Porter has offered.

Mr. Andrews and Ms. Easton have a commitment to restoring historic buildings and their plans wouldn’t result in something out of place for the area, Ms. Eklund said.

It’s expected that a second meeting with neighbors will be scheduled in September.

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