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Dear Decaturish — Four reasons we should ALL support a B&B on Ponce and Pinetree

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Dear Decaturish — Four reasons we should ALL support a B&B on Ponce and Pinetree

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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Editor’s note: The author of this letter is the applicant for this project. If you would like to read the previous letter to the editor on this topic, please click here.

Dear Decaturish,

Who knew a bed and breakfast could be so controversial?

As I’ve listened to the opposition from our neighbors on Pinetree Drive to our proposal to bring a bed and breakfast to the intersection of Ponce de Leon and Pinetree, it has caused me to question some things.

At one point, in the midst of the sixth person talking about how a neighborhood inn (yes, like the one in Gilmore Girls) would ruin the character of a residential street, I even questioned whether this was such a good idea.

Some context: My wife and I live on Ponce, 13 houses down from the inn we’re trying to create. We have three kids ages nine, seven, and five. The two eldest are in Decatur schools (F.Ave and Westchester!).

We have owned and managed short-term rentals for the last seven years, but we’ve always dreamed about starting a small inn, something that would allow us to create a welcoming and hospitable place within the context of a community.

Since we moved to Decatur, we would walk past the big house facing Ponce with the palm trees and lions (you probably know the one), and think, “Is that a bed and breakfast? If not, it should be!”

And so, when it came on the market, we put our life savings on the line and put it under contract.

Only to find, to our surprise, that our neighbors didn’t have the same vision of a wonderful, hospitable inn a short walk from Dancing Goats, Chai Pani, and all the other amazing things on the westside of Decatur.

Listening to them, I get it. Pinetree Drive really is a beautiful street: long and wide, with giant trees and single-family houses and condos on either side.

I’ve heard our neighbors talk about how precious Decatur’s small stock of single-family housing is, how easily it could be lost in a city of just four square miles at the edge of Atlanta, and how once lost it will never come back. It’s the same sense of preservation that forced the railways and highways to divert miles away that Decatur is famous for.

And yet, here’s why despite all the doubts my neighbors raised in me, I still believe this will benefit Decatur in general and the residents of Pinetree.

1. 620 Pinetree already looks commercial

The biggest fear I’ve heard is that turning 620 Pinetree into a bed and breakfast will lose some of our valuable housing and place a commercial property into a residential neighborhood.

But as I’ve talked about this to people from all over Decatur and Atlanta, everyone already thought it was a commercial building. Some thought, like us, that it was a B&B, others a senior center, others a lawyer’s office.

Someday, whether my neighbors like it or not, this building will fulfill the image people have of it and become irrevocably commercial. It makes sense too: it’s on Ponce next to two large churches and the post office, not like the homes tucked onto large lots halfway down Pinetree.

But if the alternative is an office space, wouldn’t it be better if it was used for a small-scale, residential-friendly bed and breakfast with eight rooms where people can feel at home?

2. Decatur needs this

There’s a reason bringing in a boutique inn was part of the Decatur 2030 master plan (page 92). We need more and better lodging options, as it says in EG.02. We need to “reduce the tax burden on homeowners by encouraging the redevelopment of commercially-zoned land and attracting visitors to increase sales and hotel tax revenues,” as it says in EG.09.

We need this.

Talia and I didn’t make this up. We’re trying to help with something Decatur is asking for.

3. It’s perfectly legal

The city ordinance allows for residential buildings to be used as a “lodginghouse” of up to eight guest rooms with a conditional use permit. I’m not sure where the word lodginghouse came from, which sounds like the 19th century, but what we’re proposing fits perfectly within what Decatur says they both allow for and want.

4. It will happen with or without us

Someday someone will turn 620 Pinetree Ave into a commercial building, likely someone with deeper pockets and better lawyers (I’m just a writer with a 5-year-old!). Someday someone will bring a boutique hotel to Decatur, likely a national chain with executives in another city.

Wouldn’t it be better if it were someone who’s invested in this city, in this neighborhood and in its success?

Wouldn’t it be better if it were someone who really cares?

I get it. It feels to them like they’re losing something important.

To me, the alternatives are worse, and there’s a chance we just might get a truly wonderful property, a gem in Decatur, that won’t just earn the city revenue it needs to run our amazing schools (the ones my kids go to), but also where guests of our city can experience true hospitality.

Here’s my request: let’s get past the us vs. them and see that we’re all in this together, trying to make this already amazing city even better.

All our best,

Joe Bunting

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