As we noted here yesterday, the Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to approve a minor special use permit and buffer variance for Deanna and Colin Crossman's plan to renovate the King's Daughters Home and transform it into a B&B.
For most readers, that's about all you need to know. But some of you may want the blow-by-blow of what happened in yesterday's meeting. For you, dear readers, more detailed notes on yesterday's session ensue after the jump cut below. Warning: Not for the faint of heart or the only-mildly interested.
Board of Adjustment chair Bill Brian opened the hearing by noting drolly, "I'd like to note that I have a conflict at noon" -- a not-so-subtle reference to what happened last time a Trinity Park subject filled the City Council chambers to overflowing, when testimony on The Chancellory at Trinity Park project stretched the BOA into a day-long affair.
The choice to move this week's meeting up to the second floor conference room proved challenging; six minutes after the meeting's scheduled start time, a line of citizens still stretched to the door of the 80-seat conference room, simply waiting to sign up to speak on the project.
The meeting finally started almost 10 minutes late, with the minor special use permit coming up for discussion second on the agenda. By BCR's estimate, there were approximately 45+ persons signed up or present in support and eight signed up in opposition. (The group signed up in opposition -- the roster requires attendees check "for" or "against" -- would note repeatedly during their testimony that they were not opposed to a B&B on the site and supported the permit request, but that they wanted use restrictions tied to the permit.)
As Michael Stock from City/County Planning noted, the structure
would remain unchanged (save for the removal of an old garage), and the
B&B would be subject to an alternate parking plan approved by the
Development Review Board, providing six of the parking spaces for the
B&B within 1000' of the development -- in this case, spaces leased
from Hall-Wynne Funeral Home on Main St.
Furney Brown, Jr. of the BOA noted he was not familiar with a B&B and asked the difference between a bed-and-breakfast and a small hotel. Stock noted the owners must be resident, and there were limits on the services that could be offered and the possible improvements to the site. Stock noted that there are additional standards required by the ordinance, including maintenance of the site's existing interior, no functioning restaurant on site (breakfast for guests only.)
BOA member Lynn Andrews asked if there are any limits in the ordinance on the number of rooms allowed in a B&B; Stock noted there were not.
Brian asked if the Hall-Wynne property would be encumbered by the
parking arrangement; Stock noted that under the proposed conditions for
the MSUP a lease has to be in place with Hall-Wynne, and the Planning
Director would have to be notified 30 days in advance of the
termination of the lease.
As the applicant testimony began, Deanna Crossman asked Scott Selig, the associate vice president for capital assets at Duke University, to speak briefly on the project. Selig endorsed the project on Duke's behalf, and noted the campus's "excitement" about and support for the Crossmans' effort. Selig noted that Duke's campus is quiet in the evenings and would provide support for parking as needed on campus.
Brian asked if the university had an agreement with the Crossmans for parking; Selig noted they had had discussions but, thanks to the agreement between the Crossmans and Hall-Wynne, Duke had not been asked to provide parking -- but Selig noted that Duke would provide parking in the event that Hall-Wynne failed to.
Crossman noted that the couple had been working with the Trinity Park community for eight months to find the right proposal for the project, and to find ways to be good neighbors. The KDH is a contributing structure in the Trinity Park National Historic District, Crossman added, and that the transformation from a women's boarding house to a B&B would be the least-intrusive adaptive reuse possible. Other than the parking lot in the rear of the building, there would be no modifications to the structure, other than improving it.
Covenants on the deed would largely preserve the interior structure of the building and the historic character of the building, Crossman said.
The applicant noted that their proposed use should generally have a lower impact on the neighborhood than the building had had as an retirement home. 43 people once lived in the KDH, taking three meals a day, said Crossman; assuming a double-occupancy for the B&B, a maximum of 34 guests would be there exclusive of events. B&Bs in the southeast U.S. average 25% occupancy on weeknights and 80% occupancy on weekends, Crossman testified.
Additionally, the other possible uses of the KDH under zoning -- as a house of worship or a day-care center -- would all have a greater traffic and neighborhood impact than the B&B plan, said Crossman. At 17,000 sq. ft., the building was also too large to be used as a single-family home, Crossman added.
Crossman did state that an allowed and intended accessory use to the B&B is as an event space; the owners anticipated that guests would use more spaces at Hall-Wynne or the parking spaces in front of the property.
Crossman noted that their plan would reduce light pollution on adjacent properties by removing a 20' high unidirectional light with foot/path lighting and lower-height (11') lighting for the parking lot. (Currently, according to Crossman, the existing light shines directly into the windows of its neighbors.)
BOA member Andrews asked how many employees they expected. Crossman noted that they would have part-time housekeeping help only, and those staff would be coming during the daytime before guests checked in for four hours per day. The Crossman's parents would also be living on property and assisting with the B&B, she said.
BOA member Brown asked about the 8' fence. Crossman noted today there already is an 8' fence at the rear of the property, and that they had worked with the neighbors on the new design.
BOA vice chair Daniel Edwards asked about the events plan, and whether there would be a maximum number of people at events. Crossman noted there are three spaces that could hold events -- the parlor and the dining room, with fire code limits of 35 and 49 people, respectively. The auditorium in the basement would be reduced to 890 sq. ft., capping the number of people at an event there at 59 people, Crossman said.
BOA member David Neill asked whether the parking calculation being based on owner's spaces plus guest parking; he asked what parking impact the presence of the Crossman's parents living in the house would have. Crossman noted that most of the transportation uses for the owners would be met through walking or biking.
Neill asked Rob Emerson, the landscape architect, about the lighting plan, and whether there could be a condition asking to the kind and style of down-lighting that would be used on the site, to ensure that unidirectional lighting would in fact not be used. City/County Planning representative Stock noted that such a condition could be easily added to the application.
Ilana Saraf at 310 Watts St. came to speak in support for the project as an adjoining neighbor, noting the Crossmans had been "thoroughly considerate" of neighbors' needs, and that they would be an extraordinary asset to the neighborhood. Saraf worried that the property was already deteriorating, and that they were strongly in support of the Crossmans' plans as a way of saving the facility. Saraf also noted their strong support for the design of the fences and the buffers.
Saraif added that Trinity Park is an "urban neighborhood," and those who choose to own a home here live here for a reason -- making parking concerns an issue that, in her opinion, should be examined differently than in other neighborhood contexts. "If you don't want to live in a city, move elsewhere," Saraf noted.
Joan Austin from 701 Watts St. noted she is the Realtor for the property, and stated it has been extremely hard to sell, having remained unsold on the market for two years. One interested party wanted to tear the building down for new houses; an out-of-town developer wanted to put in 20 condos, and a third, 20 apartments for undergraduate housing.
Austin noted most of these would have been prevented by the KDH covenants on use, teardown and facade. The Crossmans' plan, Austin added, has thrilled the King's Daughters Society and the women who feel an ongoing kinship with the property. "There's nobody better who can take care of this property than Deanna and Colin Crossman," Austin said to applause from a number of project supporters.
Addressing the Crossmans, BOA member Brown expressed his admiration for the Crossmans' approach to the hearing. "The way you all have presented this project today -- I've been on the board for a long while now -- [is] one of the best I've seen. You've had community support, you've been able to document" the impact on the community, Brown said, adding that they hadn't heard from those neighbors signed up as opposed to the project.
Linda Wilson noted she lives 26 steps from the nearest door into KDH, and that she's a member of King's Daughters and has been for a decade, though not an appointed representative of the King's Daughters. Wilson also noted she is a member of the board of the TPNA, which heard the Crossmans' presentations on the home, and that the board has voted to support the project. Twenty-five neighbors had also submitted letters of support for the Crossmans' effort, Wilson added.
Claire Wilcox at 213 Watts St., on the corner of Gloria and Watts, noted her family had lived in their home for 33 years and recognized the KDH as a cornerstone of the neighborhood. Wilcox said the neighborhood had had positive and negative changes, but that they loved living in Trinity Park. Wilcox noted her family had also very much admired the Crossmans' openness to feedback and concerns and their response to same. Wilcox testified the B&B would be a "terrific use" of the property, and that they -- as frequent B&B guests in other locations -- have never felt B&Bs to be an intrusion on the neighborhood.
Ellen Dagenhart, president of the board of Preservation Durham, expressed the society's support for the minor special use permit and the variance. Dagenhart testified that this use would be closest to the property's historic use and would have the lowest impact on the facility and the neighborhood. Dagenhart added that PD would hold the historic covenants on the property.
Dan Jewell noted he lived 70 steps away from the property, three houses down from the B&B. Jewell stated he'd be in support just based on the improvement a B&B would bring to the neighborhood, but that there were other factors unique to this property that made this the best use.
Jewell stated the Crossmans were not clients of his, but that he and his firm had been engaged three times to look at the property for other clients. The first one was a pro bono job for the King's Daughters Society, wanting to find out what possible uses could be; the other two were for private developer use. In all three occasions, Jewell noted that unless it were turned into a single-family house or very low-density condo project, the biggest obstacle for any redevelopment would be parking.
Jewell's firm's conclusion? There were three options: you'd need to acquire adjacent properties and tear-down for parking; contract with neighboring properties for parking, as the Crossmans have done; or demolish the KDH's building annex to provide more on-site parking. Fortunately, Jewell noted, the Crossmans have through hard work and luck come up with the best option to provide some on-site and some off-site parking.
"It would have been terrible if the option of tearing down a portion of the building had been the only option for providing parking," jewell noted.
The chair asked for those signed up on the roster in opposition to the project to present; Laura Gutman, John Swansey, Ralf Michaels, and Stefanie Kandzia approached the Board with a PowerPoint presentation and prepared remarks. After reviewing their submission for its admissibility, Brian asked what the basis was for their inclusion of certain other B&Bs as comparable properties.
Brian also asked if the presentation had been provided to the applicant; Gutman noted that they had not. Brian asked for a two-minute recess for the applicant to review the opposition research and determine whether they had any opposition to the materials to be entered into evidence.
After reconvening, Gutman noted that she is not presenting in opposition per se to the project, but that she has conditions she wishes to see attached for the minor special use permit. Gutman noted her home is within 350 yards of the facility, that she is in support of the KDH becoming a B&B, and that the Crossmans' provisions have been excellent overall.
On the other hand, Gutman noted, she and several "like-minded neighbors" have concerns about the accessory use for events centered around noise, alcohol, event size and number, and parking. (Brian asked whether the group was in fact authorized to speak on behalf of all these neighbors, including the Greenblatts and David Solow, who were not present; Michaels stated that they were and that they possessed affidavits to that effect.)
Gutman asked the BOA to consider the likelihood of alcohol use at the B&B, noting the neighborhood had a long, troubled relationship with abuse of alcohol in the neighborhood given its proximity to Duke. While Gutman noted that the B&B would likely not host events that would provide alcohol to minors, she expressed concern about the "proximity" of the B&B to youth at neighboring Duke's campus.
Gutman then provided a comparison of the KDH proposal to other B&Bs in Durham; the only other B&B with more than 9 rooms, the Arrowhead, does have an ABC permit and also has commercial zoning and 25 on-site parking spaces. (The Greystone Inn has 50 on-site parking spaces but eight rooms and also hosts events.) All of the remaining B&Bs, which have four rooms or less, do not host events or hold ABC permits, according to the presenters' chart.
Gutman also noted that a caterer could provide their own ABC permit in the case of events, and that that would be the opponents' preference.
Edwards -- a BOA member as well as the owner of the Morehead Manor B&B -- noted that there are specific noise ordinances in place in Durham, which he stated his familiarity with in his role as a Durham P.D. officer. Edwards noted that, through a caterer with their ABC permit, the Crossmans could serve alcohol anyway.
Another BOA member noted that the only issue he could see having an issue with would be the event size, which he pointed out would already be impacted by the Fire Marshall's code.
Ralf Michaels spoke next, noting his house is 120 feet from the Gloria Ave. entrance to the B&B. He urged the B&B to grant the permit, but with restrictions on the events. Michaels also claimed that the missive sent from the TPNA president to the neighborhood listserv and Monday's posting on a 'local blog' did not contain accurate depictions of his group's proposals.
Michaels stated that although there is a noise ordinance, such an ordinance needs to be enforced every time by the police -- and that they would prefer restrictions on events to make that kind of pro-active approach less necessary. He also asked that all entry after 10 pm be blocked on the Gloria Ave. entrance to reduce the impact on neighbors like him (Michaels stated that he lives on the corner of Buchanan and Gloria.)
Michaels adds he does not think the Crossmans have the intent of holding "keggers" on site, but that he is concerned that Duke just bought up 15 houses in the neighborhood to reduce the impact of alcohol in Trinity Park. "We don't want this to be a party space," Michaels said.
BOA chair Brian asked how Michaels wanted the BOA to "memorialize" the concerns of the neighbors, adding that blocking the B&B from being a "party space" couldn't be done by the Board. Michaels stated they had proposed conditions for the number of events, number of guests at events, and the use of alcohol on the property. Michaels stated he thought these restrictions would be representative of typical injunctions on B&Bs.
"My expectation was, because these were not things the Crossmans intended to do, these should not at all have been hard" to negotiate with the applicants, Michaels added. Michaels claimed several times that the Crossmans had not been willing to meet with his group of neighbors in sufficient time to agree to these conditions.
(A few minutes later in the meeting, BOA member Brown asked Michaels how many times they had met with the Crossmans; Michaels described their meeting history and schedule, including the request of his neighbors' group for confidential discussions, to which the Crossmans reportedly would not consent; and the Crossmans' request that all such meetings be tape-recorded, with which his neighbors' group was uncomfortable with.)
Michaels proposed restrictions based on those that apply to the Duke Mansion in Charlotte, along with a facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "That's quite a facility," Brian stated, noting it's three to four times the size of the KDH based on his own personal experience staying there.
The neighbors' group signed up on the "Against" side of the BOA meeting roster proposed the following restrictions:
- A maximum number of 50 guests, exclusive of inn guests, at any time.
- A restriction on 6 large events (more than 20 guests), 24 medium events (10 to 20 guests), and unlimited events under 10 guests.
- All off-street parking for guests, staff and caterers for events.
- Mandatory valet parking at any event with more than 10 guests.
- No outside amplified music.
- No inside amplified music after 10 p.m.
- No use of the Gloria Ave. entrance after 10 p.m. except in case of emergency or wheelchair accessibility.
- Require one-day permit or use of caterer's license for the serving of alcohol.
BOA member Edwards stated that, from his own experience as an innkeeper, the focus of the owners will change, the number of events will become fewer, and that history shows that the concerns will work themselves out. Edwards noted the Crossmans are very clear about fitting into the fabric of the neighborhood, and "they will not have the kegging parties tearing up their neighborhoods."
"We started off 11 years ago," Edwards said, at which time he had a large event as a new innkeeper. "I had over 150 people at my house. Never, ever again." Edwards noted the Crossmans would be brought into the local innkeeper association and be mentored and groomed into the association.
Brian noted that some of these conditions don't strictly tie into events; the restriction on amplified music, for instance, would apply to guests. Another BOA member noted that the existing Durham noise ordinance should already cover this restriction in its entirety.
BOA member Andrews asked whether the restrictions at the Charlotte and Ann Arbor, Mich. B&Bs were tied to use permits, or were simply policies self-imposed by the owners themselves. Michaels stated it was his understanding that these were restrictions on the permit, and to some extent integrated into a covenant with neighbors.
Brian expressed some technical concerns about whether the Duke Mansion is really comparable, given that it has a gift shop, bar, restaurant, and multiple internal elevators. "It's a much larger enterprise than what we're talking about here," Brian stated in expressing his pessimism about the use of the Duke Mansion as a comparison. (A web search reveals that the Duke Mansion is about 50% larger than the KDH and has 35 full-time staff working at the facility.)
Michaels noted the concern for blocking a Crossman-owned ABC permit as one rooted in concern over economic downturns, fearing the Crossmans might be less selective about to whom they sold alcohol or what kind of parties they would throw in hard economic times.
BOA member Rebecca Winders asked if the B&B would meet the tests under which the BOA must approve a minor special-use permit without the requested restrictions. Michaels stated that the opponents do not want the permit to be denied, but that they don't feel the restrictions under the UDO would be met without these conditions, and that he left it to the BOA to determine whether therefore restrictions were necessary.
Brian noted there are only three choices: approve the request, deny the request -- both of which require evidentiary bases -- or to say yes to the request with conditions designed to address concerns.
Michaels emphasized again that he disagreed with the characterization on listservs and blogs that his neighbors' groups were opponents of the project, and reiterated that they had hoped to have an agreement before this meeting.
Andrews asked why Michaels and his fellow opponents had interests different than those of the other adjacent neighbors who spoke in favor of the project. Michaels noted that his main concern was not with immediately adjacent neighbors (like Ilana Safar) but with individuals further outside the zone of notice and impact for BOA and variance issues.
John Swansey spoke next, congratulating the Crossmans on their vision and passion for desiring to redevelop the property, and noting that the accessory use remained his main concern. Swansey appeared to state a concern that the on-street parking adjacent to and near the B&B would be used by the guests of the B&B as well as attendees. He requested that a way be found to accommodate the request without impacting surrounding neighbors' parking.
Swansey also noted that the edge of the neighborhood was under significant pressure due to a proposed hotel at the corner of Buchanan/Watts/Main and by other zoning changes in the area. "We have had a recurring problem with these spaces filling up," Swansey noted, referring to the public parking spaces on Buchanan south of Gloria.
BOA chair Brian offered the Crossmans a chance to rebut the opponents' testimony. Deanna Crossman noted that the Crossmans felt strongly that the accessory use discussion is kept intentionally vague in the statutes to put the burden on the businesses to be good neighbors, and stated that the revocable nature of the use permit is intended to protect neighbor.
On the point of alcohol, Crossman noted that serving port at a turndown service had been proposed for months and claimed it had been okay with the neighbors' group requesting restrictions until four days before the meeting. Crossman also stated the applicants supported Permit Area B parking restrictions be added to Gloria, and would be happy to contract with the TPNA to support this if needed. (The KDH's opposition to Permit Area B parking had previously stymied such efforts.)
Crossman also noted that they would be willing to have a limit on maximum occupancy in the building, as a condition as need be; she claimed that this was offered to the neighbor group calling for restrictions, but that this was rejected.
Brian asked if there is plan to have a cash bar on premises; Crossman stated that they would not.
Edwards noted it was understood among innkeepers that the grey areas with B&Bs had to be handled with caution to have good relations with neighbors.
Andrews noted her concern about event parking, and mentioned she would feel more comfortable if she knew that an event parking relationship with Duke had been fully established. Crossman noted that the agreement in Duke was not in place because the Duke parking lot the B&B might use was located across from Hall-Wynne and, soon to be undergoing renovations, was still in the site plan process with the City.
Brian noted that there was no way the BOA could "police" the parking situation, and that the Board has to assume that. Crossman noted that the vast majority of the parking around the site was already permit parking. Neill asked how much parking was available on the street; Crossman replied that public parking already existed on Buchanan, and that the open parking on Gloria could be changed to permit parking with the Crossmans' support.
Neill noted that the parking concern is derived from the intended special event uses, and expressed his concern that the special event use would be much larger than the typical B&B use. Crossman countered that the accessory use must be a minority of the applicants' time and income, which provides in her mind enough restrictions on use.
Neill asked how the legitimate neighborhood concerns could be protected; Crossman responded that the use permit is revocable, and it is incumbent on them to be good owners; she also noted that many of these events would serve the local neighborhood and neighbors.
Brian inquired whether a proposed cap of 95 people on property at any time would address the BOA's concerns. He also mentioned that the alcohol use is likely beyond the purview of the board. Brian proposed the restriction on the number of people present as the primary method to address parking and activity concerns.
Stock provided the staff recommendation for approval based on the evidence and parking plan provided, and with a limit of 17 rooms on the inn. The occupancy and lighting restrictions (limiting to the lighting plan shown in Exhibit A) were added to the proposal as well.
The BOA moved to approve the proposal, subject to 17 rooms, 6 off-site parking spaces, termination of the off-site parking agreement allowed with notice to the Planning Director, modification of the off-site parking must be approved by the DRB no later than 60 days following the date of termination, a maximum headcount of 100 persons in the facility, and "substantially similar" lighting to that in the site plan. The proposal passed seven to zero to widespread applause.
The BOA turned as a formality to the buffer variance related to the east side of the property, which is needed because the existing annex building extends into the required buffer. A thick masonry wall would be required, but that would put the health of trees at risk. Instead, the Crossmans -- with the support of their eastern neighbors -- proposed refreshing the existing fence structure. The variance passed on a 7-0 vote.
Disclaimer: This account reflects my attendance at the meeting as a private citizen and does not represent the opinion of the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association or its board of directors.