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Dear Decaturish – Eight reasons the Decatur City Commission should reject boutique hotel

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Dear Decaturish – Eight reasons the Decatur City Commission should reject boutique hotel

Talia and Joe Bunting have requested a conditional use permit to open a boutique inn at 620 Pinetree Drive in Decatur. Photo courtesy of the city of Decatur.
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Dear Decaturish,

This letter is addressed to the Decatur City Commission. I could not attend the commission meeting in which the conditional use permit request for 620 Pinetree Drive was addressed, but I’ve watched the recording twice.  As you prepare for your second review on Nov. 7, I’d like to offer observations that underscore my hope you will conclude that voting “no” is the only responsible course of action.

1. If you approve this request, you will set a precedent around the complicated proposition of placing a commercial venture in a residential neighborhood.

2. Equally problematic, the precedent would be based on the use of a flawed ordinance, an ordinance commissioners have observed is contradictory.

3. Our Planning and Economic Development Director suggested you could hedge such a precedent by using your rationale for this decision to judge similar future requests. For example, when considering a request from the Great Lakes neighborhood, you could ask, “How is this similar to or different from the time we approved the eight-room B&B and special event venue on Pinetree?” In effect, she’s asking you to set policy in the context of a real-time decision. Given the high stakes of altering any of Decatur’s residential neighborhoods, the city should deny this request and address policy flaws in a setting arranged for the purposes of rule-making.

4. This proposal is apparently before you due to language in the strategic plan pertaining to Economic Growth [Expand lodging options. Attract a boutique hotel or Bed and Breakfast.] I find it difficult to believe the strategic plan envisioned what’s proposed for Pinetree Drive, converting a large home surrounded on three sides by homes and a church and school across the street and turning it into a business. Consider the tagline featured on page 93 of the Strategic Plan that is dedicated to Economic Growth: “What’s good for quality of life for everyone is good for business.” It is difficult to understand how placing an eight-room B&B/special event venue in a residential neighborhood is good for the “quality of life for everyone.” Every Decatur homeowner living in a neighborhood that includes larger homes should oppose this request because their neighborhood and quality of life may be next.

5. Is it actually good for business? I conducted a hypothetical search for a place to stay for two adults in Decatur on Airbnb over an arbitrary weekend (January 27 – 29, 2023).  I had a choice of 49 homes, not to mention two downtown hotels. Also, VisitDecaturGeorgia.com lists seven options within city limits for wedding venues, including the Courtyard and the Conference Center. The list doesn’t include any of our houses of worship, Wahoo! Grill, or Legacy Park.  In sum, I don’t believe a shortage of Airbnb options, hotel rooms, or event spaces is a significant limiting factor for Decatur’s economic development. If it were the case, is it worth the costs associated with placing such a business in a neighborhood?

6. The proposed project carries enormous financial risk for all concerned, but especially neighboring homeowners. If the prospective buyers were permitted to alter the property as proposed, it would almost certainly be cost-prohibitive to return the structure to its original purpose as a single-family residence.  If the business fails, the Pinetree neighborhood, the city of Decatur, and the bank would be stuck with an albatross.

7. It’s critically important to keep in mind that the proposed project is a commercial venture, a business with a bottom line.  Success depends on the BnB doubling as an event space with all the disruption that entails: crowds that vastly exceed the number of people staying in an 8-room facility, valet parking to handle cars, music, and the consumption of alcohol in a group setting. There is no minimum number of events across a calendar year that would make this palatable for neighboring homeowners.  Every Decatur resident, including commissioners, should ask oneself honestly, do you want to live next door to a special event venue?

8. Back to the issue of economic development, this project is fundamentally extractive vs. additive.  It will have an immediate negative impact on the marketability and value of homes adjacent to the property. It would irretrievably transform a $2 million single family residence into a Frankenstein that can never be put back. It’s difficult to believe the potential tax benefit that could be derived from the proposed business would rise to a level that would justify these costs.

As a 3rd generation Decatur resident and homeowner of 29 years on Pinetree along with my wife, Nancy, I’m proud of Decatur and I respect both what it’s become, warts and all, and its aspirations.  This project violates Decatur’s high standards for intentional, thoughtful, disciplined community planning and implementation.

Please vote “no.”

Sincerely,

David Weitnauer

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