Is it a bed and breakfast inn or is it a hotel?
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners debated that topic when they held a re-hearing of the Summer House Bed & Breakfast and decided it doesn't matter, voting 3-2 to give the B&B/hotel a green light.
Last week's re-hearing took place due to the applicant appealing the 2016 vote of 2-2 when only four commissioners present, resulting in a denial. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Lewis ruled that the applicant deserved a more clear and decisive decision.
With all five commissioners seated, the board did not hear original testimony. Instead of starting over, County Attorney Sidney Noyes played the tape from 2016 for the current board to bring them up to speed with what had happened. Commissioners then were able to ask questions of the applicant's attorney and hear from those in the community, all of whom were against the project due to incompatibility.
The state describes a bed and breakfast has having less than 15 rooms. Summer House will have 25 rooms.
Because of the number of rooms, the state will license the 25-room construction as a hotel, which is what disturbs the community.
Planning Director Mac Carpenter said there are no limitations on the number of rooms that can be built in a limited-lodging facility on a parcel zoned Neighborhood Commercial. The only restrictions are that it must be one structure with residential character.
The structure will have three floors, with two of those enclosed, in 13,000 square-feet. Parking will be on the first floor with 28 spaces.
In addition to the 25 guest rooms, the structure will have a kitchen and dining area plus lobby.
Carpenter said the zoning is neighborhood commercial within the Inlet Beach Plan.
"We must approve something where we can't find a good reason not to. It meets our requirements," said Carpenter, even though he admits he believes the state will regulate as a hotel.
Residents brought into question semantics of residential character, parking spaces, and whether it is in keeping with the neighborhood plan.
"It is truly a hotel," said Betty Letcher. "I'm not against a 10 or 15 room bed and breakfast that looks like a bed and breakfast. This does not."
All of the residents who spoke seemed to agree that it would be acceptable if cut down to 15 guest rooms, and Chapman asked the applicant if they are truly wanting to put in a bed and breakfast if there was any possibility to redesign it to 15 units, but the owner of the property said no.
"Our approval or disapproval is for a bed and breakfast, but I believe it will be licensed as a hotel," said Chapman.
But the attorney for the applicant, Daniel Abbott, told commissioners that whatever the state calls the building cannot be the basis for the county's approval or denial of the project.
"Land use is a county concept," Abbott said. "You are in charge of how buildings are built and neighborhoods. This project is permitted under your land use and zoning plan as limited lodging. But you need a license from the state to run something. At the state level they don't care if you call it a bed and breakfast. The state probably does not call this a bed and breakfast looking at the number of rooms. But you tell us what building to put there and we will run it accordingly. You call it a bed and breakfast and the state will call it something else. The state cannot be the basis of your approval or denial. It must be approved as it meets your criteria."
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson eventually made the motion to approve the development, which was seconded by District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman.
District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones also voted to approve the development, with District 3 and 4 commissioners Melanie Nipper and Sara Comander voting against it.
Summer House will be built on the north side of U.S. Highway 98 in the Inlet Beach community.