UPDATE: Decatur City Commission denies conditional use permit for boutique innTalia Bunting speaks about her proposed boutique inn during the Decatur City Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission, at its Nov. 7 meeting, denied a conditional use permit to allow an eight-bedroom lodging house to operate as a boutique inn at 620 Pinetree Drive.
The vote was unanimous, with commissioners saying the project had too many exceptions to make the project work. They also had an issue with a plan to hold events in the space.
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said the proposal was trying to be two things, when it needed to be one. He also pointed to a couple of elements in the proposal that aren’t allowed per the city’s ordinances.
“Parking on the property, the way they want to redesign the property, as I was looking at everything in our codes, it is not permissible. The circular drive. If someone in the audience wanted to have a circular drive, it is not permissible,” Powers said. “I’m struggling with the lodging house versus the event center.”
The city commission held a public hearing on the application on Oct. 17, but delayed voting on the item after the commissioners requested more information from the applicant about impervious surface, parking plan, parking agreement, the maximum number of events per year, a definition of a micro-event and plans to provide alcohol.
The planning commission recommended approval of the conditional use permit with conditions.
Talia and Joe Bunting submitted a request for a conditional use permit at 620 Pinetree Drive, which falls under the R-60 zoning district. The Buntings planned to call it the Queen Bee Inn. It would have eight guest rooms and up to 15 guests. There would also be a caretaker of the property and a caretaker’s unit.
The Buntings made their own list of proposals to address concerns from neighbors and the city commission. Their suggestions included:
— Seeking a variance to include a u-shaped driveway. “We believe this plan, with a variance, allows for the least use of impervious surface, the least removal of trees, and the best plan for the space,” the Buntings said in their proposal to the city commission.
— Maintaining an agreement with a parking garage to handle overflow parking
“We have an agreement with National Parking Management, which manages the garage on Ponce, and they would provide all of our overflow parking as well as shuttle and valet services,” Talia Bunting said.
— Charging a parking fee to guests and issuing parking tags to guests to identify their vehicles
— Installing a “No Left Turn” sign to encourage drivers to avoid Pinetree Drive
— Limiting outdoor noise after 10 p.m.
— Discouraging the use of sound amplifiers for events
— Limiting events to 68 or fewer people
— Limiting events to Thursday through Sunday, and not allowing events on weekdays during school hours
— “For events desiring to serve alcohol, the applicant will require a caterer to be hired with a licensed bartender and host liquor liability insurance,” the Buntings said.
The city commission had also asked the Buntings how many events per year they would have anticipated hosting, but they recommended limiting the days and not suggest a specific number “to not create a regulatory burden on the city,” Talia Bunting said.
The plan included five parking spaces on the property, which would have required the removal of four trees on the lot. The Buntings planned to plant nine trees to meet the tree canopy requirements of the tree ordinance.
Many neighbors who live on Pinetree Drive voiced their opposition to the project during the public hearing. Residents previously raised concerns about trash, parking and traffic.
During the Nov. 7 meeting, the top two concerns were about events and the precedent the project would set.
“The first lodging house in Decatur, therefore, will set precedence for future applications…and a first lodging house approved for a CUP for an R-60 residential neighborhood will certainly set precedence for CUP applications in other residential neighborhoods throughout the city of Decatur,” resident Irene Duhaine said.
Tricia Drake noted that there would have to be events in order for the inn to make a profit.
“Based on what is in the revised application with events to be allowed on Thursdays through Sundays, there’s the potential for 208 events to be held every year with up to 68 persons per event,” Drake said. “It is absurd for a residential neighborhood to have to suffer with this sort of activity.”
Plans for events kind of snowballed, Bunting said. She envisioned events to be small and expected most events to be micro-wedding sized, which has previously been defined as 20 people or fewer, but there could occasionally be some larger events.
“I can see how that would feel burdensome, especially to the neighbors, and that’s not something I want to do. I would be amenable to having a conversation to reducing that many days a week if that would help feel like we really are in this together,” Bunting said.
Residents were also concerned that the application meet the standards of the city’s unified development ordinance related to lodging houses, which in part states that “[a]ctivities and functions at the lodginghouse shall be provided for overnight guests only. Meal service shall be limited to breakfast and an afternoon and/or evening refreshment. No commercial activities other than providing lodging for registered guests shall be permitted.”
The UDO allows a lodging house with a conditional use permit in R-85 residential zoning, and the maximum number of guests rooms is eight.
“Commissioners, what Mrs. Bunting is asking you to approve is not a conditional use permit, rather she’s asking you to approve, in effect, a rezoning request for an events’ venue with lodging,” Ed Phillips said.
Dan Marks was the sole resident to voice his support for the boutique inn.
“I believe that if these problems can be resolved, the general idea of offering small scale lodging throughout the city of Decatur is a good idea from a citywide perspective,” Marks said.
Commissioner Kelly Walsh said the proposal strayed from the spirit of the code for what a lodging house could or should be.
“This just to me gets out of a rationale that I can really get on board with based on the trimming back and manipulation you have to do to try to make this work, even though initially, I understand why you identified it,” Walsh said.
Commissioner Lesa Mayer liked the idea of the boutique inn, but worried about the feasibility of the proposal.
“If I could be convinced that this could be pulled off, I’d love it,” Mayer said. “I just can’t be convinced that it would be executable.”
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