By Bonnie Culverhouse
A second meeting of the Minden Planning Commission that addresses a zoning variance request may have a different outcome from the first.
During the January 6 meeting, a request by Huffman Management, LLC, option holder for the Grace Estate property at 1114 Broadway, was denied the request by a 3-2 vote. Commission members voting against granting the variance were Morris Busby, Joeann McWoodson and Steve Wilson. Those voting in favor were Michael Davis and commission Chairperson Sarah Haynes.
Emily Hunt who, along with her family, lives behind Grace Estate on Pennsylvania Ave., is concerned about the variance.
“The original request was to turn Grace Estate into a bed and breakfast, event center and lounge,” Hunt said. “I attended the last meeting to express my concern about the event center and bar because the current owner has operated it as an event center in the past, and it has been very disturbing.”
Hunt said the outside events, such as weddings, would often get “rowdy, and people would get arrested.”
Live bands late at night also were a problem. The ordinance currently in place states “There shall be no emission of vibrations, noises, odors, dust, smoke, or other pollution detectable outside the dwelling by the sense of normal human beings.”
The newest variance proposal, which will be discussed February 3, reads the same as the last but without the wording “bar” or “lounge” included.
A similar variance was put in place for Grace Estate, however, Building Official Brent Cooley said when the property changes hands, that variance “goes away.”
“In the first request, Huffman wanted to put in a bar or lounge, so he could get it zoned and licensed and cater his own parties and sell alcohol to his patrons,” Cooley said. “That was voted down by the planning commission, but he has revised his request, and he’s not asking to put a bar in there.”
Cooley said Huffman Management, LLC wants a bed and breakfast plus an apartment, so a family member can live on the premises at all times.
“He’s going to remodel the house and use several bedrooms for the bed and breakfast,” Cooley said. “It is the same variance Jimmy Hall (owner of Grace Estate) had.
“Variances are very specific to that person for use of that property,” he continued. “It doesn’t get transferred. So, when he sells the property, it reverts back to single family residential only. Mr. Huffman has to apply for the same variance.”
Hunt said one of her concerns, if Huffman’s request is granted, is that he will add the bar or lounge at a later date.
Cooley said that cannot happen unless a zoning change is approved.
“He will not be able to do that,” Cooley said, “It will still be residential property for all practical purposes, and you cannot get an alcohol license at a residential property.
“It would require a zoning change that would allow some type of commercial use,” he continued. “But that’s not what he’s asking for.”
James Huffman, who lives at Huffman House two doors down from Grace Estate, said this is all about family and community.
“I live in Minden – I’ve lived here for seven years,” Huffman said. “My daughter went to Minden High School.
“Up until this point, there’s always been liquor served at Grace Estate, just not by the establishment,” Huffman, who has been in the hospitality business for close to 40 years, said. “What happened with the average event that had alcohol … guests were allowed to bring in their own alcohol and serve themselves.”
Huffman said when that happens there is one thing that always holds true. “If you allow individuals to bring their own alcohol and serve themselves, no one keeps tabs on them.”
Dram Shop insurance was the purpose behind the alcohol discussion, he said.
“That’s insurance that covers the building, the ownership, the individual who serves the drinks and the individual who leaves intoxicated and covers the person they hit, if they do,” Huffman said. “We wanted to have control over the alcohol and how much people were drinking. It horrifies me to think of a drunk driver leaving the establishment who’s had no one to monitor them.”
It was never about a commercial bar business open to the general public, he pointed out.
“The original thought process was to have less than 10 seats in it. We were going to have four bar stools, a table with a couple of chairs and a loveseat,” he said. “It was to serve guests of the bed and breakfast and guests of guests. At no time was it going to be an open disco bar.”
Huffman said the language in the variance request was easy to remove, “because it was never about making money. Just to be responsible to my community. The community didn’t want it, so we removed it.”
In the past, Grace Estate operated as a restaurant as well as a bed and breakfast, but Huffman has no plans to utilize any of the commercial equipment to run a restaurant. It will be a bed and breakfast and single family residence, he said.
“I want this to be a positive for our community,” he said.
Minden Planning Commission’s decisions are final, unless an appeal is made to the Minden City Council.