Letter stalls council’s B&B decision | TheUnion.com

Letter stalls council’s B&B decision

A legal technicality has postponed a public hearing about bed-and-breakfast inns in Nevada City, possibly jeopardizing a project to revive the former Grandmere’s Inn.

The city notified residents 45 days in advance of the scheduled hearing, but the wording of the notice was incorrect and the city was forced to start the notification cycle over again. The hearing is now scheduled for mid-December.

Andy and Susan Howard, who want to renovate and reopen the house pending city approval, say the delay could lose them the house if the current owner doesn’t extend escrow. The delay also will make them ineligible for $15,000 in federal credit from a small-business loan program that expires at the end of the year.

The historic Sargent House, a downtown mansion on Broad Street operated for years as a popular B&B under the name Grandmere’s Inn, ceased operating as a B&B and became a private residence in 2004. Owners let the business permits lapse, and the property went into foreclosure late last year.

When new owners sought to buy the property and open it again as a B&B, City Attorney Hal DeGraw determined there was a legal ambiguity in the city’s code about reopening a B&B once permits had lapsed.

A 1984 ordinance allowed B&Bs in residential areas, while a 1994 ordinance repealed it. DeGraw said the 1994 ordinance leaves a blank slate on which the city council can draft new legislation; opponents say it bars all new or re-opened B&Bs and should only be reversed by a city-wide vote.

Opponents also pointed out that the previous owners were unable to reopen the house as a B&B after they allowed their permits to lapse. City officials said that decision was based on a previous city attorney’s interpretation of the legal language.

‘A critical omission’

Letters sent out said the ordinance would allow former B&Bs in residential areas to reopen if they had six or fewer rooms; the draft ordinance approved by the planning commission in September does not limit the number of rooms.

“It was a critical omission,” said City Manager Gene Albaugh. While the city has no choice but to postpone the hearing, “it’s unfortunate if there’s a deal going on.”

The Howards, who own the Emma Nevada House B&B downtown, wanted to close escrow by the end of the year and get started on renovations in time for a strategic late-spring opening date. The notification error has pushed back that timeline.

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

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