B&B request offends, angers neighbors
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
More than 40 people, most of them residents of the Oconee Shores and Apalachee Woods neighborhoods in Buckhead, gathered at the Morgan County Commissioners building Friday night to voice their concerns about a proposed “bed and breakfast” at 1230 Apalachee Woods Trail.
Homeowner Doug Nelms had requested the meeting with the local homeowners association, and Morgan County Senior Planner Allison Moon agreed to host the meeting and mediate. The gathering did not constitute a formal public hearing on the matter—that will come January 31 at the Morgan County Planning Commission meeting—but it did give neighbors a chance to voice some concerns, and Moon an opportunity to hear some of the residents’ problems with the proposal.
“The conditional use process is working the way it’s supposed to work,” said Moon. “The neighbors are getting a chance to voice their concerns about the appropriateness of this use in this particular area.”
In a nutshell, Nelms, who is the pastor of Victory Tabernacle Church in Conyers, began renting his Apalachee Woods Trail home out for weekends to a select group of friends after he and his family took an apartment in Conyers that became their de facto primary residence last year. Nelms is an avid fisherman who designs custom rods and organizes fishing trips on Lake Oconee and in other areas, and he was pleased, he said, to be able to rent out his house and earn some extra income while the family was in Conyers.
He did not realize that he had run afoul of zoning regulations, which forbid short-term rentals in LR-1, until some neighbors complained to county officials about loud visitors to Nelms house, as well as some trespassing on a neighbor’s dock.
Moon said that she initially told Nelms that she believed a “short-term” rental was a rental of less than one week, but the term was not defined in the county zoning ordinances. Nelms and the county eventually went to magistrate court for a ruling on the matter; according to Moon, Judge Connie Holt told Nelms that any rental of less than 30 days was a violation in zoning law, and that in order to rent out the house for shorter periods of time a Bed & Breakfast license must be obtained. A decision in magistrate court regarding a potential fine was deferred until February.
In earlier rentals, Nelms said that he failed to have paying visitors sign any kind of formal contract, which may have led to problems with noise, cars, and the trespass on the neighboring dock. But if the county sees fit to permit Nelms a conditional use permit for his B&B, he said that he will spell out terms and conditions so that there are no more problems for his neighbors.
“It is not our desire to disturb the social eco-system of our neighbourhood,” said Nelms last Friday. “If I really thought this would [negatively] impact everyone’s lifestyle, I wouldn’t do it.”
Nelms owns several lots in the area of the Apalachee Woods property in question, and expects to build a new home for his family immediately adjacent to the proposed B&B. In any case, to be granted a conditional use for a B&B Nelms would have to be living on the property—in this case, next door on a contiguous property would suffice—before any further rentals can occur.
A number of neighbors voiced their concerns on Friday.
Homeowners’ Association representative Harold Johnson said neighbors were worried that the property could turn into a “high-end fish camp.”
“I see noise, clutter, strangers—I wouldn’t want to live next door. I would be concerned,” said Johnson.
Added Julie Davie, “When we moved to our house, we didn’t expect [Apalachee Woods] to be a vacation rental community…that’s the biggest fear. Some of us who live there don’t even go out on the water; we just enjoy the peace and serenity, and we’re afraid of losing that.”
At least two neighbors have written letters of support for Nelms, said Moon, and those letters have been made a part of the request for conditional use.
If a B&B application is granted, county representatives made it clear that any violation of the ordinance would result in the removal of the B&B license to operate. The property would lose its conservation-use status. Finally, a neighbour asked Nelms if he planned to sue the county if his petition for a B&B was denied.
“No, sir,” said Nelms. “I’m not going to do that.”
After the January 31 planning commission meeting, the matter could come before the Morgan County commissioners as early as February 5, their regular first-Tuesday meeting. However, since the proposed conditional use would be in District Five, and there will be no sitting District Five commissioner on February 5 (the election is that day), commissioners may elect to postpone consideration of the matter until after the election and any potential run-offs in the four-person county commissioner race are decided.