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Cohasset inn plans a major expansion

A proposal to add 40 suites at the popular Red Lion Inn Resort in Cohasset Village has created a stir in this picturesque neighborhood, where stately historic homes mingle with a cluster of small businesses.

Supporters of the inn’s expansion say it would bring consumers to local shops, but some nearby homeowners fear additional noise and traffic — two issues they say they already battle.

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The South Main Street property has been the site of an inn for about 250 years. The current establishment features an upscale restaurant and bar, 15 guest rooms, and two function halls.

A proposal recently discussed with the local Planning Board would add 40 one-bedroom suites with kitchenettes, housed in two three-story buildings to be built next to the inn. Because parking in the village is at a premium, each unit would have a designated space beneath the building.

In a brief phone interview, inn owner Gerd Ordelheide said he was “still discussing it and making decisions,” but architect James Sandell said he expected to file a formal application for the project “in a couple weeks.”

The expansion is aimed at keeping function guests in town, Sandell said. “The inn has only 15 rooms,” he said. “This project would capture the group that’s there for the wedding, so they stay in Cohasset.”

The units would be marketed under a quarterly timeshare arrangement to provide Ordelheide with upfront cash. “The owners would block out when they wanted to use them, and the Red Lion could rent them out the rest of the time,” Sandell said.

Guests now pay $400 per night, somewhat steep for “younger folks attending weddings,” the architect noted. The new suites would rent for less.

Sue Dreamer, owner of a village shop called Twist, said she thinks the expansion is a great idea. “We get a lot of traffic in the store from weddings,” she said.

Other merchants are reserving judgment.

“It’s already difficult for people to park here, so one of the concerns is what’s going to happen with parking,” said Amie Theriault, who owns Santi Holistic Healing. “If it’s going to create more of a problem, that wouldn’t be great, but if it’s not affecting parking, it would be good for business.”

Theriault, president of the Cohasset Chamber of Commerce, said the organization will discuss the proposal at its next meeting.

Peter Brown, who serves on Cohasset’s Economic Development Committee and attended project discussions, said the venture would add vitality to the village. “I think this would be a positive thing, bringing patrons to businesses and restaurants,” he said.

Village resident and former selectman Tedd Carr said the inn was little more than “a small and tough bar with a couple rooms,” when Ordelheide purchased it in 1998. “He did a $10 million renovation. He has really improved it,” he said.

Also on the Economic Development Committee, Carr called the inn “one of the most important properties in the village,” adding “anything that can keep it vibrant is important.” Carr, however, said he worries about the impact on nearby homeowners.

“The quandary is how do you move forward with something that’s economically good for the town and still protect the rights of neighbors,” he said.

Inn neighbor Jean Healey Dippold recently sent an e-mail citing concerns over traffic, parking, noise, and the visual impact on the historic village.

“We know this development has the potential to impact several aspects of what makes our small coastal village unique in America, so we will follow this process closely and encourage others to do the same,” Dippold wrote.

Dippold’s father, Paul Healey, attended the Cohasset Planning Board’s discussions last summer and later said he believes the buildings will tower over its neighbors. On the plan, each measures just under the district’s height maximum of 35 feet. Healey, a Hingham Planning Board member, said the first-level parking and hilly target location would boost the height.

“It’s going to loom over the neighbors, and whatever quiet enjoyment they had will be gone,” he said.

Healey suggested Ordelheide meet with homeowners, something Sandell said he planned to do.

Carr said he believes Ordelheide will work with neighbors. “We’ll be excited to watch this,” he said. “Once they apply for a permit, there will be a chance for comment.”

The Red Lion has a long history, beginning as a farmhouse built in 1704 by Thomas James. “He was one of the very earliest settlers in what is now Cohasset Village,” said local historian David Wadsworth. “James’s grandson enlarged the house into an inn along the stagecoach line.” Wadsworth said he believes it has operated as such since then.

In more recent years, the inn has hosted such celebrities as George Carlin, Johnny Mathis, Peter, Paul and Mary, Julio Iglesias, and Christopher Lloyd, “to name just a few” who were in the area to perform, said Matthew Paige, the inn’s bartender.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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