NEWFANE -- Throughout a hearing Wednesday night on the proposed reopening of the historic Four Columns Inn, the word "potential" came up often.
That's because the "potential" owner of the 138-acre property, Four Columns Acquisition LLC, has not yet put the finishing touches on a deal to buy the inn and restaurant from People's United Bank.
But that doesn't mean there aren't big plans in the works: Mary Stichter, who represents the Connecticut company looking to revitalize the Four Columns, told officials that a purchase is imminent -- possibly just weeks away.
And she expressed hopes that the inn could reopen in the near future.
"There are so many processes that we need to go through to get the doors open, so we wanted to get a jump on that," Stichter told members of Newfane Development Review Board.
The DRB convened a hearing to conduct a site-plan review in connection with a zoning permit to allow reopening of the Four Columns, which closed more than a year ago.
People's United Bank last year foreclosed on Pfander Realty LLC's mortgage on the property, and the bank obtained control of the parcel by submitting an $850,000 bid at a public auction in October.
The Four Columns has been dormant since, but Newfane Board of Liquor Control last month approved a liquor license for Four Columns Acquisition LLC. State records show that the company is based in Stamford, Conn., and its manager is Charles Mallory, who is founder and managing partner of a real-estate investment firm there.
Stichter on Wednesday night told the Reformer that she could not elaborate on the company's plans in Newfane due to the fact that Peoples United still owns the property.
But the prior hearing showed that Four Columns Acquisition's plans are moving forward as much as possible prior to the sale. Stichter had filed papers proposing 15 guest rooms and dining for 75 people -- the same arrangement that had been in effect under the previous owners.
And she told the board on Wednesday that the company plans to follow a tried-and-true business model at the Four Columns.
"We don't plan to change anything," Stichter said. "Obviously, it is a business that worked for a long time."
A few other details came to light during Wednesday's hearing, including:
-- Marilyn Distelberg, a Newfane Village business owner who has been retained as a consultant and bookkeeper by Four Columns Acquisition, said the owner will not also be the operator of the inn.
It is not yet clear, however, who the operator would be under the ownership of Four Columns Acquisition.
-- Because the sale has not yet been finalized, the potential owners have had some access to the property but have not been able to complete any interior work, Distelberg told officials.
-- The layout and use of the West Street property will remain the same, though there are plans for "some interior upgrades," Stichter said.
For the purposes of Wednesday's hearing, however, DRB Chairman Piet van Loon made it clear that his board's inquiry was relatively narrow in scope. Primarily, "it has to do with access to the property, movement on the property, parking and things such as that," van Loon said.
Parking is an important issue, as there are not enough spaces on site to accommodate visitors to the Four Columns. The company's application shows that customers also would use spaces at the nearby Newfane Congregational Church, and there already is an agreement to that effect.
"We have had a working agreement that they could use the parking area that the church has, but not on Sunday mornings or at other times that there are official meetings or (gatherings) at the church," said Neil Pelsue, a church trustee.
There also was a request at Wednesday's meeting for the DRB to grant an exception allowing the Four Columns to utilize a blend of on- and off-site parking. Officials noted that some customers likely will park on West Street.
There were relatively few other issues that arose. One resident asked about placement of a trash bin at the Four Columns, while another wondered about plans for a pond on the property.
Speaking for himself, and not for the town, van Loon said he hoped that management and the affected neighbor would work out the trash bin issue. And Stichter said she was aware that the pond requires some improvements.
"It's certainly something we'll be looking at it's on our list," she said.
There also were multiple expressions of support for the Four Columns reopening. Along with his position as a church trustee, Pelsue also attended the meeting as an adjoining property owner and said he is looking forward to the inn resuming operations.
"Everything I've heard so far is positive," Pelsue said.
After hearing testimony, the DRB went into closed deliberations. The board has 45 days to issue a decision on a zoning permit, van Loon said, but could act sooner.
"We'll get this done as quickly as possible," van Loon said.
He added that Four Columns Acquisition's status as a "potential" owner is not a barrier in the process. It is "not unusual at all" for a party that does not yet own a property to apply for a zoning permit, van Loon said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @MikeReformer.