Sobriety retreat, food among Fitzwilliam Inn's proposed changes

·6 min read

Aug. 7—FITZWILLIAM — The owner of an inn that's been up for sale for several years is looking to reopen the property for lodging and food as well as partially an addiction recovery retreat, though plans are receiving some pushback.

Chelley Tighe, owner of the Fitzwilliam Inn, is proposing to continue running the hostel with an added focus of welcoming guests recovering from alcohol and drug addiction who have already completed medical and rehabilitation programs.

The inn was built in 1796, according to its website. It's in Fitzwilliam's Common Historic District, so Tighe must request a special exception from the town's zoning board of adjustment to run the property under the various functions she's proposed. Tighe said she put the inn up for sale in July 2019 but received no lease or purchase offers over the last three years and a lease offer she deemed nonviable, so she pulled it off the real estate market in April and developed her current plans.

Tighe describes the retreat as a transition point that's intended for fully-sober guests who have been vetted by local treatment clinics to safely reenter as well as inn staff who determine whether guests are an appropriate fit for the program.

"[Guests] will have already gone to detox, they will already have gone to a therapeutic rehab situation [and] they are not people who are actively in their addiction right now," she said, emphasizing that the retreat is not a clinic, so there are no doctors or medications involved.

Bob Evans, the retreat's program manager, stated at a June 7 meeting of Fitzwilliam's planning board that participants must have been sober for 60-90 days to attend the retreat. He said the curriculum will run from 6 a.m.-11 p.m.

The inn has 10 lodging units with some used as double occupancy. There's six units on the second floor with five to be used as double occupancy for retreat guests and one unit to be used for overnight staff, Tighe said. On the third floor, there's four units for general inn guests, she said.

"We're planning on it being a year-round retreat," she said. "We're looking at hosting yoga, cooking instructions and other community-centered things that will incorporate the town or people to make the inn what it is — a big part of the town. We want to keep it that way."

There's also two apartments in the back of the inn where staff can stay as well as general public inn guests. Tighe said inn staff, which include those managing the retreat, will be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Fitzwilliam Inn retreat will follow an Alcoholics Anonymous-style model of programming though will not be limited strictly to people recovering from alcoholism. She added that retreat guests will pay out-of-pocket for a stay in the inn and expects about 90 percent of them to have their own insurance to cover the cost.

A portion of funds pooled from retreat guests' revenue will be earmarked for a "scholarship" for Fitzwilliam residents who may have a need for the program, she said.

Starting out, only men aged 18 and up will be permitted to participate in the retreat. This is because of the lack of women on staff when a purpose of the retreat is sociability, according to Tighe.

Tighe described the idea of running a sobriety retreat as a "dream" for her and her family, with her son, Kevin, among them whom she said exited a similar program after completing a rehab program.

"This type of program literally changed his life," Tighe said. "It was the only thing after 15-20 years of addiction ... that worked for him. I don't think he would be here today if he didn't have the backup of a post-treatment program like this."

She cited the concept of sober tourism, which she said is a growing segment of the travel industry, as inspiration. The inn could be a space for sober weddings and other alcohol-free events, she said.

As for the food aspects, Tighe said she's seeking for her son Kevin to run a takeout wood-fired pizza restaurant on weekends with an existing oven in the back of the inn. She's also planning to replace a bar that previously existed at the inn with a coffee shop since the inn is intended to be a sober space.

Tighe and her family are set to go before Fitzwilliam's zoning board of adjustment to gain approval for the special exception. The board is set to meet Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. in Fitzwilliam's town hall to determine whether to grant the exception based on whether it's considered a "hotel/motel/inn" per town ordinance.

"We've thoroughly researched all the [town ordinance] and there's nothing that says a certain portion of the inn or 100 percent of it has to be used for a certain population," Tighe said in response to concerns about whether the number of retreat guests violate the ordinance's definition of an inn.

The meeting was postponed from its original date of July 21 after there were not enough members to hold a vote. It follows the June 7 meeting of Fitzwilliam's planning board, whose seven members voted unanimously to send the proposal to the zoning board to determine whether it receives the special exception.

Karen Craig, a Fitzwilliam resident for 32 years who lives near the inn, hopes to speak at the Aug. 22 zoning meeting to voice her disagreement with the proposal, which she said stems from uncertainty of whether it aligns with town ordinance.

"This is not anything personal, it's around making sure we're in line with the ordinance," Craig said. "And if the zoning board and the planning board vote to say that it does align, then the next step would be to have that discussion about what is occurring in there."

During the June 7 meeting, Tighe referred to lodging for the retreat as being "10 rooms for 10 men" rather than five units of 10 rooms out of the inn's total 10 units. Craig said this didn't seem to be "open to the general public" and that Tighe's wording changed, as it initially appeared the whole inn would be reserved for the retreat.

Craig also said the wording on the town's agenda documents made no mention of the retreat functions of the site in reference to the special exception, which she said could be misleading. Tighe clarified that the exception covers all aspects the inn would feature under her proposal for the reopening.

If Tighe receives approval from the zoning board, she said she hopes to open the property and promote the retreat "as soon as possible." No maintenance or renovations will be necessary as these were carried out while the inn was closed to make it attractive while up for sale, Tighe said.

Editor's note: This article has been changed to correct the purpose of a June 7 vote by the Fitzwilliam Planning Board.

Tim Nail can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or Follow him on Twitter at