Township shuts down Inn
- Published: October 1, 2015
Last week, county and township officials and a group representing the Glen House Inn met for the most recent episode of a years-long property dispute. Inn owners Erik and Deirdre Owen were expecting to lead zoning and health code inspectors on a fact-finding mission to determine what aspects of the Inn need to be brought up to code. Instead, they were surprised to find Miami Township Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf and Greene County Prosecutor Stephanie Hayden serving the Inn with a cease and desist letter, requiring the bed and breakfast on Grinnell Circle stop its operations within 14 days.
The cease and desist order is a victory for some of the Inn’s neighbors, who have been saying for years that the activity of the Inn is disruptive to the neighborhood. They are upset that their complaints to the township have gone unanswered, and say that the Inn shouldn’t be operating because it is not following the laws that govern B&Bs in residential areas in the first place.
The Inn owners deny they are doing anything problematic. The Owens said they got permission to open the Inn in 2011 and cited instances where they’ve complied with requests to square the Inn with Township code. They said they’ve been given contradictory information about Township code and then been punished for abiding by one interpretation of it.
The dispute has ballooned from a disagreement among neighbors to a bitter quarrel that spans township and county agencies and has resulted in people no longer talking to one another. The affair also invites a host of questions about bed-and-breakfast operations, institutions that are part of the local economy but are governed by what some see as a confusing set of regulations.
Interpreting zoning code
According to the Township, the Inn violates the Township’s zoning code by not being owner-occupied, by having event rentals and secondary residential structures on the property and by not having the appropriate occupancy certificate necessary to run an inn. These claims are based on Section 2.210b of the Miami Township Zoning Resolution, which makes some allowances for B&Bs in residentially zoned areas.
The Township contends that the Inn is not owner-occupied because the Owens do not live there. The regulation encourages the owner to live on the premises in a sort of supervisory capacity, Zopf said. The guests are less likely to create problems with the owner there, and the owner can help escort guests out of the building in case of an emergency.
Also crucial to this controversy is item 6 of Township code, which requires “the owner [to] obtain a certificate of occupancy from the Greene County Building Inspection Department” in order to obtain from the Township the occupancy permit that allows the owners to use the residence for either a bed-and-breakfast or a home-based business. The Township says that Owen does not have the correct certificate of occupancy and therefore shouldn’t be operating.
Zopf said the directive of township and county officials is obviously to enforce the law, but that he has been fairly judicious in his previous inspections of the Inn and generous in the time he allows residents to fix the zoning problems that need to be fixed. (An inspection in the beginning of July gave the Inn two months to get into compliance.) The Inn fracas reflects the complicated role of a zoning inspector, as the township is being assailed by all sides of the dispute for not interpreting code in their favor.
The operations of the Inn
The Glen House Inn rents five rooms to guests. There is a small pool, a kitchen serving a light breakfast, and common areas adorned with art. According to innkeeper Jody Jason-Farrar, the Inn hosts around 10 to 12 guests during summer weekends and about six during the week. There are scattered events on its grounds throughout summer, such as birthday parties and showers, and about five weddings per year. Jason-Farrar said that there are no more than 50 people at any event; usual attendance is around 23 to 30.
Operation of the Inn has been tailored to the requirements that were at some point explicitly described by a township or county official, Owen said, and the Inn has faithfully made improvements to the property when the Township or county has asked. He cited his immediate repair of the septic system and the spring that feeds the Inn, as well as not renting rooms on the lower level because they exceeded the number of allowable rooms the Inn could let. Owens said their cooperation demonstrates that that they are accommodating the Township’s requests in good faith.
Nevertheless, in order to obtain the occupancy permit it needs, the Inn would have to make significant structural changes. Owen said this includes the installation of steel doors, fire dampeners, hood systems in the kitchen and a 150,000-gallon cistern for a sprinkler system, among many others changes. The updates asked for by the Township are “impossible” to achieve without overhauling the entire building, he said, an expense he simply cannot afford.
“You basically have to build a hotel,” he said.
Owen objects to the accusations that the Inn is not owner-occupied — a factor vital to the Inn’s ability to function — because the Inn is legally their primary residence. Owen said that his taxes are mailed there, and that he pays the RITA tax. Neighbors opposed to the Inn say they have voter registration and tax records that show the owners’ residence is in Michigan.
Owen said that unclear directives and the heft of his neighbors’ voices have made for a situation that is complicated at his expense. Neighbors blame him for everything that goes wrong in the Circle, he said, including traffic unrelated to the Inn, dead deer, busted mailboxes and the presence of mushroom hunters.
Some of the neighbors opposed to the Inn say that the noise and traffic associated with the Inn undermines the integrity of their quiet neighborhood. Neighbors maintain there are fireworks and loud music and excess garbage, and that catering trucks park on the berm of the already-narrow road. At a Township Trustees meeting on Sept. 9, neighbor Mark Hunnibell said he was unhappy with unknown people lurking in the area, describing a recent occurrence where a car drove into the neighborhood and circled around the common area before parking at the Inn. “Why would they do that?” Hunnibell asked at the Trustees meeting. “I think it’s a safety concern.”
The neighbors’ frustration stems from the fact that their complaints have allegedly gone unanswered. At the Trustees meeting, the neighbors referenced a letter the Township sent Owen in June, which resulted in the July meeting where Owen was given until the end of August to reduce his operations. Neighbors said that as of the end of August, the Inn’s website was still offering its grounds for weddings.
“We can live with the Inn,” one neighbor said. “We don’t want to live with that other stuff.”
As this controversy unfolded, the News was contacted by a few of the Inn’s neighbors who said they didn’t know about the Sept. 9 Township meeting and are actually in favor of the Inn being there. Neighbor Gabriele Leventhal is “mystified at this hoopla” and has “absolutely no objection to the Inn at all.”
Not only is the number of events the Inn hosts exaggerated, she said, but it is the nicest property on the Circle, and enhances the property values of surrounding residences.
Neighbor Dan Rudolf said he would rather have the inconvenience of a party once in a while than eliminate the benefit the Inn brings to the community. And regarding the traffic, Rudolf said there are people from town who know the area is an idyllic spot, and therefore like to come walk their dogs or take a drive around the circle.
“It’s a public road,” he said.
Where to go from here
The situation remains unresolved. Inn staff and sympathetic neighbors attended a Miami Township Board of Trustees meeting on Monday and lobbied Trustees and Zopf for clarification on Township and Greene County code. The confusion became apparent when Trustees and neighbors were unclear about a few of the points of contention, as the number cited as maximum occupancy for residential B&Bs couldn’t be located in any zoning ordinance.
Township Trustee Chris Mucher said the board has no power to adjudicate in matters of zoning, but did explain the process by which the Inn’s owners could schedule a meeting with the Township’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
Erik Owen said he is exploring his legal options and will put in motion the process to have a hearing with the Board of Zoning appeals, which might extend the current 14-day requirement within which the Inn has to cease operations.
Mucher said that if need be, the conversation will continue in two weeks at the next Trustees meeting, and based on the complexity of the issue, a ruling might have consequences for every area bed and breakfast.