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Ram’s Head Inn makeover bid in motion

The Ram’s Head Inn.

Water quality is a key factor in a battle between the owners of the Ram’s Head Inn and some residents over the possible sale of the property to a Virginia corporation that operates high-end hotels and restaurants and specializes in wedding parties and other events.

If the proposal passes muster with the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Linda and James Eklund would continue to work in collaboration with Easton Porter Group, the company in question, Ms. Eklund said.

Next Tuesday, August 14, the Planning Board’s agenda is expected to include introduction of the first official plans for renovation of the Inn since landscape architect Susanna Herrmann of Southampton’s EN-Consultants outlined a preliminary proposal back in April.

Ms. Herrmann described a “modernization” of the Inn that she said would keep the natural charm intact. Those plans involve keeping 22 guest rooms, but moving most of them out of the main building to small cottages to be constructed on the property. The tennis court would be replaced by a swimming pool and spa; there would be more on-site parking; and a new septic system would be installed to serve the renovated property.

Revised plans haven’t reached the Building Department, but reportedly have been shared with members of the Planning Board in advance of next week’s meeting.

In a byzantine process, the Planning Board is likely to send the plan to the Building Department because its personnel must turn down the proposal to trigger a referral to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Since the existing Inn is a nonconforming use in a residential area, ZBA action would be needed to allow changes.

It then would take passage by the Zoning Board of Appeals for the Planning Board to get the application back for its action. And because the Inn is in the “Near Shore Overlay District” where intense development is discouraged to protect water quality, it’s possible the Conservation Advisory Committee and/or Water Advisory Committee (WAC) could also be asked for opinions on the application.

Tim Murphy, WAC chairman, lives in Little Ram. He said he’s heard concerns about water quality in the Rams, and tests his own water every month or so and has had no problem. The WAC has been asked by the Town Board to render a general opinion of the proposal. His comments, he said, are his own and don’t reflect committee opinions that could be forthcoming when the WAC meets on August 20.

It would be irresponsible not to factor in concerns about water in judging the application, Mr. Murphy said. He would recommend use of cisterns with trucked-in water for some purposes. Under the irrigation statute in the town code, that would be required for a swimming pool.

In an ad Ms. Eklund placed in the Reporter, she stressed the historic nature of the Inn and said Easton Porter is led by a husband-wife team who “love, restore and operate historic properties.” The proposed changes, her ad stated, emphasize what today’s travelers expect by way of private bathrooms that couldn’t be created within the main house.

Instead, cottages would rim the site without encroaching on any setbacks, the ad said. Ms. Eklund said there are no plans for a separate wedding center or pavilion and more event activities would be able to be accommodated inside the main house.

A counter ad paid for by the Ram Island Association ran last week in the Reporter  charging that if the proposal is approved, it would end enforcement of zoning on Shelter Island, turning the Inn into a large-scale resort and catering facility that could host as many as 35 weddings a year. It also shows parking across from the Inn, something Ms. Herrmann said was not going to be necessary since there would be more onsite parking.

The ad mentions that preserving the quality of life here requires protecting the water supply, managing traffic and preserving open space.

The Planning Board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Town Hall.