Residents voice concern over permit changes for 'Groundhog Day' house

WOODSTOCK – Neighbors packed the Woodstock City Council chambers Tuesday to voice concerns about holding events at the famed "Groundhog Day" house.

Lori and George Miarecki opened the doors to the Cherry Tree Inn, located at 344 Fremont St., at the end of September and now want to amend a special use permit in order to hold events such as weddings, birthday and tea parties, bridal and baby showers, luncheons and music and art cocktail parties.

The couple’s existing special use permit limits events and gatherings to a maximum of 25 people, but the Miareckis requested the city amend the permit to allow up to six events a year that would allow for 60 people for indoor weddings and up to eight events a year that would allow for up to 160 people for outdoor weddings.

Lori Miarecki said that the vast majority of their events would host groups of less than 80 people.

She added they wanted the allowance for 160 because of requests they have received to host events for charities, which would take place no more than once or twice a year.

Woodstock’s Plan Commission recommended that the City Council allow the change as long as events on Fridays and Saturdays end by 10 p.m. and events Sundays through Thursday end by 9 p.m. The business also must provide a shuttle or valet service during larger events to allay parking concerns in the neighborhood.

The 5,815-square-foot, eight-bedroom, 8½-bathroom home is close to Dick Tracy Way Park and about a half-mile from Woodstock’s historic Square. The historic home was featured in the 1993 film “Groundhog Day.”

Neighbors expressed concern about the plan, citing traffic, litter, smoke and noise worries.

“We chose to live in Woodstock because of the tranquil nature of our wonderful community,” neighbor, Steven Jacobs said. “The new owners liquor license and special use permit is not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. This operation is not compatible with the existing and desired character of the surrounding area.”

Neighbor Jill Hunt said that she thought the investment was exciting, but wanted to make sure the neighborhood stays focused on residents.

“I have wondered why no one has capitalized on this opportunity, and now we want homeowners who want to market it worldwide. Frankly, I think it’s exciting,” Hunt said. “However, we have to remember we are a neighborhood of family homes first. We are not a business district. We are not an extension of the Square.”

Not all were opposed to the idea.

“I live right across the street,” neighbor Stuart Thiel said. “I have absolutely no objection. … No doubt there will be occasional parking problems, but for my money that’s an OK sacrifice to make to help someone eager and enthusiastic to make a go of that property’s potential.”

Woodstock Chamber of Commerce Director Danielle Gulli said she thought the concerns were exaggerated.

“I have not heard George and Lori talk about huge parties,” she said. “And we are assuming all eight spots are going to be booked at 160. ... That is very unlikely. We don’t have that kind of booming economy.”

Council members hadn’t made a decision on the matter late Tuesday. The Miareckis said they were willing to work with the community to address neighborhood concerns.