No room for B&B, commission says
Applicant withdraws after vote
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
Morgan County Planning Commission Members gave a unanimous thumbs-down to a proposed bed & breakfast (B&B) in the Apalachee Woods area of Lake Oconee.
Doug Nelms, a resident of that neighborhood, had applied for a conditional use for a B&B in his home on the advice of a local magistrate judge. According to county staff and Nelms, the Judge Connie Holt told Nelms last fall that renting his home out for short terms of less than one month violated local ordinances, and that if he wanted to rent his home out to groups for two and three days at a time he must apply for the B&B designation. There is no designation for a “vacation rental” property in Morgan County ordinances.
“We do understand that a B&B and a vacation rental are not the same thing,” said Senior County Planner Allison Moon. “The applicant understands that he [will need to comply] with B&B regulations in order to operate this property as a rental,” said Moon.
The use for which Nelms is hoping fits the definition of local B&B ordinances, despite the observation by some members of the planning commission that a plan to rent out an entire house to family groups of a dozen or so people at a time does not fit the traditional view of a B&B.
Several dozen residents attended the planning commission's regular meeting last Thursday, and several chose to speak on record against the application.
Sue Johnson, who lives next door to Nelms, said that during the times in which the property had been rented before the matter came before the judge, she had had numerous problems with renters at Nelms' house.
“The noise and the congestion and the kids and the docks...they're just all over the place. I think it's a management problem, and it's just not being tended to,” said Johnson.
During rental periods last year, Nelms was not on-site and acknowledged that this had caused some difficulty for his neighbors. But Nelms also pointed out that if he were granted a conditional use for a B&B, he would be required to live on the property while it was being rented and he would be able to control any potential noise or trespassing issues in the future.
Neighbor George Cox said that he had never noticed any undue noise or congestion on Nelms' property.
“I'm up and down [Apalachee Woods Trail] two, three, or four times a day,” said Cox. “I've never seen any disturbances with the people he has come to stay at his lake house. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Another resident, Barbara Parker, was concerned about future B&B's following this one.
“If it's approved, I think it sets a precedent,” she said. “I don't want to see these things popping up...it's a neighborhood of families, and I just want it to stay that way.”
Other neighbors said that the property was unsuited as a B&B because it is only a one-acre parcel of land; others noted that fact that the house is on a small canal leading to big water, and the canal may not be able to support the traffic and recreational needs of a vacation property.
In his presentation to the planning commission, Nelms noted that he had not tried to subvert local ordinances by renting out his home.
“If I had any idea that I was violating the ordinance, I would have done this the other way round, and come to you to ask for a B&B permit before I ever rented it,” said Nelms. “I wasn't operating from the position that it would be better to get forgiveness than permission—I just didn't know [that I couldn't rent the house.]”
Nelms also stood by his determination to keep the neighborhood quiet and peaceful if his application is granted by Morgan County commissioners.
“If for one minute I thought this [B&B] was going to...upset the social structure of our neighborhood, I wouldn't do it,” said Nelms. Nelms withdrew his application and the issue was not voted on at the Morgan County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday.
The planning commission also heard last week from member's of the Morgan County Resource Preservation Advisory Board (RPAB), voting 8-1 to approve text amendments to the group's enabling ordinances on resource conservation. The new amendments will allow Morgan County, if it chooses, to set up preservation districts within the county—after appropriate advertisement and community input. The changes to the ordinance were recommended because they bring county code in line with state requirements for areas applying for Certified Local Government (CLG) status—and if Morgan County qualifies as a CLG, it can open the door to large pools of grant money available at the state and federal level for preservation projects.
“If we are going to continue to reap the benefits of preservation in this county—and we have a quality of life that is unimaginable—then we need to let local governments go the distance,” said planning commission member Tom Joiner.
Several members of the RPAB spoke in favor of the ordinances changes. Morgan County resident Mike Conrads requested some amendments to the new language which would permit property owners to opt out of historic viewsheds, but the board declined to make those changes, noting that property owners may participate in public hearings and voice their opinions but cannot be allowed to individually veto powers granted to local governments.
Finally, commissioners recommended denial of a petition by Van Duncan for a variance on a setback for a building he is hoping to construct at 1410 Atlanta Hwy., adjacent to his “Wash Rock” laundromat. Commissioners noted that the county has never granted a setback for a new structure; the closest that they have come is in permitting a variance on the RaceTrac gas station on Hwy. 441 near I-20 several years ago, when the owners agreed to tear down an old, existing building and construct a newer, more eye-pleasing structure.
Also at issue for the planning commission in Duncan's case was the size of the setback, from 15 feet to eight feet.
“I'm concerned about the precedent on a new commercial building for setting a variance of 50 percent,” said board member Brian Lehman.