Hostel owner wants reform of zoning process

By Caroline Leak

Hostel owner Adam Stanley came to the Buena Vista City Council meeting last week to protest the dismissal of his rezoning request.

Stanley was looking to purchase a house on Beech Avenue to convert it into a hostel. To do so, it needed to be rezoned from a residential property to mixed business.

When his rezoning request was brought up in the Sept. 21 meeting, Councilman Billy Fitzgerald made a motion. Council members, in retrospect, have different versions of what the motion was. In any case, no one seconded it, and Mayor Larry Tolley moved on to the next agenda item.

“Everything I see here is wrong. The process was wrong,” Stanley said at the Oct. 5 meeting. “We deserve an answer.”

Fitzgerald said he thought he was making a motion to discuss when the issue came up two weeks earlier. “The [city] attorney should have clarified what we were doing,” he said.

Because council technically took action on Stanley’s request, he now has to wait 12 months before he can submit his request again.

The day of that meeting, Councilman Tim Petrie emailed most members of the council to let them know he would vote to deny the request.

“This is a knee-jerk reaction to a request to open up a business. Spot zoning? Maybe not, but I do consider it arbitrary. Careful,” Petrie wrote. “In the general vicinity of SVU, we need to be offering more, not less [sic] residential opportunities.”

Zoning and Planing Director Tom Roberts said that SVU does need more housing, but that it’s looking to build dorms on land it already owns. SVU has 51 properties listed on its website as rental options for upperclassmen and married students.

“I haven’t had any explanation other than these backchannel emails that weren’t even sent to the whole council,” Stanley said.

In August, Stanley and his realtor, Skip Ramsey, went to the planning commission with their proposal. The planning commission, which includes representatives from SVU, approved it unanimously.

Realtor Skip Ramsey is leasing the house out for owner Paul Bowen. He has expressed dismay with how the rezoning application was handled by city council.

“Rather than trying to run a hostel under the radar, we thought we’d go the official route and that it’d be a slam dunk,” Stanley said.

Stanley owns Stanimal’s 328 Hostel and Shuttle Service, which has opened hostels in both Glasgow and Waynesboro for Appalachian Trail hikers. Websites like TheTrek.co and HikerYearbook.com offer comprehensive lists of hostels along the trail. Hikers can call the hostel and catch a ride to a hot shower and a warm bed.

Stanley’s hopes to open a third hostel were dashed when, after a few weeks, a joint hearing, and $600, the council dismissed the application.

“There’s no reason why anyone would say it shouldn’t be a commercial property. They just don’t have a leg to stand on,” Stanley said. “If you’re a wife and husband with kids, you’re not going to move to that property. It’s the busiest corner in town.”

Stanley said this particular property was ideal for hikers. It has a yard ideal for letting gear dry and wraparound porches for his guests to sit and relax.

Despite the fact that Buena Vista is technically considered an A.T. Community, Stanley said their actions indicate otherwise.

“We were really, really disappointed with what happened,” Planning Commission Chairman Dennis Hawes said.

He said this is not the first time the city council has ignored the Planning Commission’s recommendation in his 20 years as a member.

In his office, Hawes walked over to his bookshelf and pulled out a copy of The Housing Boom and Bust. “This is one of my favorite books,” Hawes said. He believes zoning should be used in a way that economically benefits the community. “The more restrictive you make it, the more you drive business away.”

Hawes recalled a man who wanted to open a machinery shop who went to city council for a permit. His request was denied, Hawes said.

“They [council members] seem to say, ‘No you can’t do that,’ rather than ‘Let’s see how we can make this work,’” Hawes said.

“I’ve said for a long time, this city is not business friendly,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re getting a reputation from turning them down.”

“To me, that’s a little bit overly dramatic,” Petrie said. “I understand how they [the planning commission] came to their decision. But at the same time, you got to look at the bigger picture.”

“I think it’s laughable that everyone thinks that my email changed people’s minds,” Petrie said.

Petrie was not present at the joint hearing or at the meeting that Stanley attended to ask the council members to reconsider his request.

Stanley said he still plans to buy the property.

“I’m not just going to go away,” he told the city council members.