Finding the right balance between being too restrictive and not restrictive enough when it comes to the construction of new hotels in Rome continues to elude Rome and Floyd County officials.
Since last fall, Lisa Smith, executive director of tourism, has been asking for an amendment to the Unified Land Development Code.
It would require all new lodging businesses to apply for a special-use permit before they could build.
Smith made another plea after planning staff drew up a draft ordinance amendment accommodating her request and presented it at Tuesday’s ULDC subcommittee meeting.
“We need to have a voice and be able to step back and examine documents,” she said.
Smith said she never would have pushed for the SUP requirement were it not for last year’s uproar over plans for a Sleep Inn to be built in Summerville Park.
“The last dinner bell rang and it was saved because of the Housing Authority. That’s not going to happen every time,” she noted.
The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority purchased the property and plans to build senior residences.
The draft amendment would require all hotels, motels and bed and breakfast inns planned for residential, commercial, mixed-use and office-institutional districts to apply for an SUP.
Supporters say the resulting public hearing process could help prevent developments that would harm the character of surrounding areas.
Smith said there are four “very serious” developers who have come to her, itching to get into the downtown area, along West Third Avenue, and near State Mutual Stadium.
“I don’t know who else is looking at our community,” Smith said. “The Summerville Park hotel wasn’t in the best interest for that neighborhood. It would have been great for my industry because that’s more hotel rooms. But I’m here because I care about the community.”
Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson said he’s concerned that an SUP would be too restrictive. He said he’d rather see something that imposes certain limitations, depending on where the development is happening.
“If you start tagging all different sorts of uses with telling them they have to get an SUP, you start taking our zoning code down a slippery slope in terms of everybody will have a problem with this or a problem with that, they don’t want that convenience store or that hotel or whatnot,” Eidson said. “It waters our zoning code down and that’s dangerous for our community.”
Planning Commission member Logan Boss agreed, saying conditions can change after a development is approved.
“The Scottish Inn becomes the Cottis Inn and then you’re stuck with it,” Boss said.
Rome-Floyd Planning Director Artagus Newell said he also had concerns whether the SUP would have the desired effect, since criteria can change after the permit is approved.
Planning Commission member Frank Brown said that if something is approved on the determination that it would have “no adverse effects” to an area, that would be difficult to monitor.
“I don’t know how you’re ever going to prove that,” Brown said.
He pointed to a proposal a few months back for an RV park next to a residential neighborhood that later could have changed to a hotel.
“It’s just going to be a giant mess,” Brown continued. “The city and county attorneys should review it before we go jump into something and say we need a special use permit — instead of restrictions — to help get through the process without being anti-everything.”
Smith said she isn’t sure which mechanism would be best, but she added that perhaps all late-night businesses should have more restrictions.
“Not to open Pandora’s Box, but maybe we should start looking at all commercial entities and thinking about protecting our communities and neighborhoods more,” Smith said. “Maybe we shouldn’t be picking on only hotels here. I just want us to think very carefully about where the next hotel goes. Just because it’s a piece of known property and they have money doesn’t mean they’re the best fit.”
The ULDC subcommittee is comprised of Floyd County planning commissioners, Rome-Floyd County planning staff, Rome-Floyd County Building Official James Martin, Rome Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson and City Engineer Aaron Carroll.