Will there be a new inn on Wykeham Road in Washington?

It's a matter of contention and deep emotions in a rustic, small town struggling to stay that way.

Tempers and emotions flared Monday as the possibility of allowing inns to be built on town roads was discussed in a special public hearing before the Zoning Commission.

"I'm begging you to protect us," pleaded Kathy Mathews, a Route 47 resident. "That's your job, not to sway with every whim that comes along."

A call was made for commission vice chairman Gary Fitzherbert and fellow zoner Harry Wyant to recuse themselves because of past support for developer Matthew Klauer's proposal to build an inn on Wykeham Road.

Neither commissioner stepped back.

Fellow resident Phil Dutton agreed that, while the rural nature of the town must be preserved, encouraging inn development would be good for the town.

"Nobody wants to see our town destroyed with a large, commercial development," said Mr. Dutton, "but people who stay at inns come downtown and are customers for the businesses here."

"In November, 400 signatures on a petition told you the majority of residents want this change," he said.

Some 100 residents attended the hearing.

A regulation change would add a definition for an inn and remove stipulations now in place on frontage requirements and on scale and size requirements for an inn.

Those would be left to the discretion of the Zoning Commission on issuing a special permit, which would still be required to build an inn. At this time, inns can only be constructed on state roads in Washington.

Some town officials expressed problems with the proposed change.

The Planning Commission has found it inconsistent with the town Plan of Conservation and Development, and Selectman Nick Solley agreed.

Former Zoning Commission chairman Hank Martin found the proposed change to be "poorly thought out."

Board of Finance member Rex Swain questioned removing stipulations on inn size and frontage requirements.

"I don't think there is any wording we can make to mend the split in this room," said Zoning Commission chairman David Owen. "We are working to make the regulations consistent with the past."

"We will have to bring the regulation change into line with Planning Commission views," ne said. "But we believe our special permit requirements provide the opportunity for future zoning commissions to make good decisions."

The public hearing on inn locations and definitions was kept open to the commission's regular July meeting.