SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – I am sitting in the living room of Gerry and Eve Bluett’s home and it’s getting a little crowded. They have four other residents from their neighborhood gathered to talk about concerns regarding an upcoming zoning hearing and say this is just a small representation of the number of people fired up.
“Our issue is they’re licensed as an Inn, they’re not licensed as an Assembly Hall but they’re acting like it is an Assembly Hall already,” says Mr. Bluett. “They had parties by their own count 70 times last year and they’re amplified (loud) with lots of people and they’re disturbing the neighborhood.”
He’s talking about the Whitman Inn which is just up the street and across from Forsyth Park. On February 27, the Zoning Board of Appeals will hear a request from the new owner for a zoning variance to allow the facility to hold events attended by as many as 100 people. The owner is also requesting a parking variance, i.e. that the facility does not have to provide parking for events.
“We already have park visitors, we have SCAD students that park here, we have employees in the area here and we have people coming to take DOT (the free bus downtown) that park here so it’s a huge issue already,” said Eve Bluett. “And it’s getting worse.”
The group says past events have been held without proper zoning and object to the granting of a variance now. “We don’t want this to be solidified as a legal Assembly Hall,” said Mr. Bluett. “It’s just not what we’re looking for for our neighborhood.”
Residents say guests at past events often gather outside in the back of the Inn and there can be lots of noise and loud music.
Joe Drescher lives two doors down from the facility and says during events like weddings or parties he can “hear the toasts going on in my living room.”
“It’s hard to live with,” Drescher said. “If the owner who bought the property lived next to it and had to spend their days listening to their own events I think they’d have a different spin on it.”
Drescher and others say the variance was applied for under old rules that would allow an Assembly Hall. But they say the new city ordinance now being adopted would disallow such use.
“What we don’t understand is the new zoning ordinance clearly has designated this as a residential area and it’s very clear there’s no provision for an Assembly Hall in the new zoning,” said Mr. Bluett. “We don’t like the commercialization of this area.”
Drescher says the facility should stay an Inn which is what it was always supposed to be.
“We’re not trying to put them out of business just trying to make them more aware of where they are, the middle of our neighborhood,” he said.
The group has gathered about 500 names on petitions which it plans to present to the Zoning Board later this month. It may be an uphill battle as zoning staff is recommending recommended the variances, something Bluett takes issue with as well.
“We don’t understand how they came up with some of the conclusions they did and we don’t think that they really looked at the problem for the neighborhood,” said Bluett.