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Norah’s gets conditional OK

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Norah Byrnes’ determination to serve breakfast to the community is unshakeable. She began serving breakfast from her home in Yellow Springs in 2011 and since then has tangled with the Village and the Greene County Health Department over home business and health codes. She was asked to stop her operation twice before, but support from the community and faith in her mission prompted Byrnes to continue advocating for her public breakfasts. On Monday, Nov. 9, the Village’s Planning Commission heard Byrne’s request that she be permitted to serve breakfast from her home on S. Walnut Street.

After an hour of discussion and deliberation, the Planning Commission unanimously granted Byrnes a permit that allows her to serve breakfasts one day a week. Byrnes said this day will be Tuesday, in accordance with tradition started with her first breakfast. However, Byrnes will need to meet Greene County code requirements before she reopens.

On Monday night the Planning Commission’s chambers were packed with around 40 supporters, 10 of who took the podium to testify on Byrnes’ behalf. Byrnes herself gave an emotional overview of her intentions for the meals, saying her breakfasts were gathering places for friends and strangers alike that truly reflect the welcoming spirit of Yellow Springs.
“People are transformed when they sit down and eat together,” Byrnes said. “It’s not just about food but fellowship.”

On Monday the planners focused on whether her proposed operation abides by Village code, specifically the part of the code that governs home businesses in the Village. Her breakfast business is considered an occupation because guests sometimes donate, even though Byrnes said she never asks for donations. But the service of meals to a third party with compensation is subject to code, even if nobody is expected to donate, said Village Solicitor Chris Conard, hence the necessity of the permit. (Conditional use permits for home occupations are not uncommon in Yellow Springs. The ubiquity of home-based massage therapy businesses in Yellow Springs was quoted a number of times at the meeting.)

A conditional use permit allows a business to operate in a residentially-zoned dwelling, provided certain conditions are met. Byrnes presented written permission from Tom’s Market and the Corner Cone that allows her to use their lots for parking, which allayed the commission’s concerns about parking issues generated by guests. No more than 20 percent of the dwelling’s useable floor area can be used for occupational purposes, according to Village code, but the Planning Commission determined that Byrne’s five hours of operation per workweek constituted less than 20 percent usage of the space. Village code holds that a home occupation can serve no more than 40 clients per week, which means that, according to Byrnes’ conditional use permit, she can serve no more than 40 guests per week.

Although Byrnes was granted the conditional use permit, there are still a few more steps that need to be undertaken before she can square the requirements of Village and county code with her vision of what she wants the breakfast to be.

A conditional use permit is only the first step, said Debbie Leopold, Director of Environmental Health Services with the Greene County Combined Health District, who was at the meeting in an advisory capacity. Byrnes will need to make sure that all fire and county codes are met, which may necessitate visits from bodies that make these respective determinations, she said.

Byrnes said the cap on weekly guests means that she will likely have to turn guests away, which is contrary to the spirit of her operation. Ohio Revised Code allows a business to serve up to 115 meals per week without a food operator’s license, but this number is superseded by Village code, which limits guests to 40 per week. Byrnes would have to work with Council to increase the permissible number of guests to the state-permitted 115, as only Council can draft amendments to change Village code. In this case, the public would be invited to weigh in on any changes to village zoning. Council Member Gerry Simms said opposition to changing the zoning code would likely be more vocal at a public hearing.
Byrnes said she would welcome the opportunity to address the public’s concerns. If it’s essential to talk about potential problems, she said, it’s also essential to talk about the benefits to the community. Her breakfasts are a place where an “incredible cross-section of town” can talk, laugh, share stories and debate issues, she said.

“I would like to demonstrate what can happen if you trust everyone and you include everyone,” she said. “I proved that good things happen when you do those two things. This is the little bit that I can do.”

The meeting ended with Byrnes receiving a barrage of hugs and congratulations and “It’s a start!” assurances from her friends in attendance. Her next official steps are uncertain, as she is waiting to speak with the Planning Commission about the best way to increase the number of allowable guests. Based on Council’s schedule, getting something through may take up to two years, Simms said, but it is a challenge Byrnes — and her supporters — are willing to undertake.

In the mean time, however, after she meets the county requirements, her breakfasts can resume, in a reduced but nonetheless deliciously legal capacity.


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