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Rumors and confusion are making the rounds in Old Saybrook about two businesses situated in historic properties facing Main Street. Here’s the tea: The James Pharmacy Bed & Breakfast & Gelateria and The Deacon–Timothy Pratt’s Bed & Breakfast (which offered afternoon teas to the general public, as well as to B&B guests) have closed.
Eileen Sottile and Paul Angelini, in business as Lini Holdings, LLC, based in Essex, purchased the James Pharmacy at 2 Pennywise Lane in October 2016 and, after making renovations, opened it as a bed and breakfast and gelato shop, along with Caffé Marche, on July 4, 2017.
In 2017 Sottile and Angelini purchased the neighboring property, the Deacon Timothy Pratt House, built in 1746, and opened it as a bed and breakfast, as well.
Messages posted on Oct. 30 by the administrators of the Deacon’s and James Pharmacy’s Facebook pages announced their closing, adding that the Saybrook Point Inn is accepting existing reservations at the rate offered at the time of booking. A notice on the Caffé Marche webpage announces its closing.
Both properties are situated in Saybrook’s Residence A zoning district, which does not permit commercial use and thus restricts the properties’ owners in various ways. For decades, however, the town has OKed the operation of the James Pharmacy as an ice cream parlor, as the use predates the town’s zoning regulations and continues the legacy of Peter Lane, Connecticut’s first black pharmacist, who installed an ice cream and soda fountain at the pharmacy in 1896. Famously, Lane’s niece, Anna Louise James, the state’s first black female pharmacist, took on the management of the pharmacy as well as the soda fountain, changing its name from Lane Pharmacy to James Pharmacy.
Lane’s daughter and James’s niece was Ann Petry, a novelist whose first and most famous work, published in 1946, is The Street. Both the property and the family occupy a special place in Old Saybrook history.
The James Pharmacy was built around 1820. In more recent years, it has been transformed into various entities, including an art gallery, an organic café and juice bar, and an actual pharmacy. In 2010, Katherine and Mohammed Benjdid purchased the property and moved in their flourishing Moroccan market and café, Tissa’s Le Souk du Maroc, along with an ice cream counter that offered, among other treats, Moroccan Delight: orange ice cream with chopped dates, almonds, and cinnamon, according to a 2011 mention in the Boston Globe.
Many of the James Pharmacy’s owners have come up against the residential zoning restrictions while seeking to expand their businesses. The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) had to consider, for instance, whether the Benjdids’ plans to offer sandwiches, soups, and the like transformed the ice-cream shop into a full-fledged restaurant, which the zoning code prohibits.
Before opening in 2017, Lini Holdings sought a variance to expand the kitchen by 61.2 square feet and install an exterior spiral staircase for emergency exits. For safety reasons, the town’s fire marshal insisted that a regular staircase be used. Lini Holdings also requested a modification of the Benjdid’s 2010 variance in order to increase seating from 12 to 28. This request raised parking concerns for the ZBA, which instructed the owners to obtain “either written permission to use or ownership of the 10 spaces immediately in front of the pharmacy” from the state, which was the owner of that property. The town’s lease of that property for parking had expired.
Lini Holdings was required to provide proof of permission or ownership “to the zoning enforcement officer prior to the issuance of a Certificate of Zoning Compliance,” according to the minutes of the ZBA’s March 2017 meeting.
Ultimately, the company’s requests were granted.
More recently, at the Feb. 4, 2019 Zoning Commission (ZC) meeting, a preliminary discussion was had with Lini Holding’s attorney, Edward Cassella of Cloutier & Cassella in Old Saybrook, about amending zoning regulations to allow the owners to occupy only one of the two properties.
“Typically, a bed and breakfast is in a residential zone and [the owner] lives there,” said Christine Costa, the town’s zoning enforcement officer. “There’s not many [owners] with multiple B&Bs.”
There’s a “fine line,” Costa explained, beyond which one or more expanded bed and breakfasts would be considered a full-fledged hotel.
Lini Properties submitted an application to amend the zoning regulations, but withdrew it in advance of the April 15, 2019 ZC meeting and public hearing on the matter.
Additional conflict arose at the Feb. 4 ZC meeting from residents who opposed zoning changes made on behalf of Lini Holdings. One neighbor on Pennywise Lane expressed concerns about whether the company planned to expand the business or apply for a liquor license and complained that the smell of food from the restaurant was “venting too close to her home,” according to the meeting minutes.
Petry’s daughter Elisabeth Petry weighed in on the closing of her family’s historic property.
“James Pharmacy has offered much to Old Saybrook before and after my family owned it,” she said by email. “I hope that whatever it becomes next will honor the memory of my grandfather Peter Lane and my Grand Aunt Anna Louise James.”
As of press time, neither Lini Holdings nor Cassella had responded to requests for comment.
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