April 11, 2021

Zoning Commission Approves Change of Use for Bee & Thistle to Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center

Old Lyme’s Zoning Commission has approved plans for the former Bee and Thistle Inn to become the new home of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center.

OLD LYME — At their monthly meeting held virtually Monday evening, the Old Lyme Zoning Commission approved the applications by the Connecticut (CT) Audubon Society that will enable the former Bee and Thistle Inn at 100 Lyme St. to be converted to the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center’s (RTPEC) new headquarters.

The CT Audubon Society had submitted both Special Permit and Municipal Coastal Site Plan Review Applications requesting that permission be granted for the use of the property for non-profit and educational activities.

Michael Cronin, the Society’s attorney, told the commission that Tom Metcalf, the engineer for the Planning and Zoning Commission, had reviewed the site plan and approved it. Cronin noted that his client, “is not proposing to do anything different to the exterior of the property.”

Asked to describe the RTPEC plans for the interior of the building, Cronin responded that the first floor would comprise a Discovery Center, a general “laboratory,” and display rooms. He added that the second floor would be designated as offices while the third floor would be a storage area.

Cronin stressed that use of the property as ‘educational’ is a conforming use and also that the Society was seeking rapid approval of its request since, “a condition of sale of the property is that it must close before Dec. 31 [of this year.]”

Commission member Jane Marsh asked whether there were any plans for residential use of the property since Old Lyme Fire Marshal David Roberge had identified that a cottage on the property could be used as a residence. Cronin replied that if residential use were desired in the future, a separate application would be made at the time.

Cronin went on to say there was “major support” for the conversion of the former inn to the RTPEC Educational Center and headquarters. He mentioned that the Florence Griswold Museum — the immediate neighbor to the south — had offered “enthusiastic support,” and the Hamilton and Noyes families respectively to the north had written “nice letters of support.”

Torrance Downes of the Gateway Commission had also expressed his support while Ledge Light Health District had confirmed they did not see the proposal as a change of use.

Cronin then called on Claudia Weicker, chair of the RTPEC Regional Board and wife of Connecticut former governor Lowell Weicker, to speak. She said, “The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center is very much excited about the property. This opportunity to combine the outside environment with an indoor facility offers space for scientific studies and exploring the latest thinking.”

Weicker added, “Here on the banks of the Lieutenant River … art, science and the river come together,” and will provide, “a legacy to the community … a place to turn to nature for distraction from the world around us … to find meaning in this world.”

She concluded that the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center is set, “to become something important in the town of Old Lyme.”

The commission approved the proposal unanimously noting the requirement for a traffic study was waived, the approval of 49 additional parking spaces was deferred until they were required, designation for water-dependent use was deemed adequate and that no residential use is permitted at this time.


  1. Penny Nelson says

    As a former owner of the Bee and Thistle Inn for over 18 years, I am delighted to see the Inn as the home of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center. Roger was a frequent quest at the Inn during our tenure . He helped me frame his painting of Ring necked pheasants which hung over the fireplace in the main dining room in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We left it there when we sold. He held his step-daughter’s rehearsal dinner there: everyone ate duck.
    This is also a wonderful thing for Old Lyme, a town that is dear to my heart.
    i wish you the best of luck moving forward.
    Penny Nelson

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