Brookhaven, GA, August 30, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Issues continue to mount and progress has been halted for a popular restaurateur and a property owner who are trying to construct a local eatery called Dixie Moon at 2536 Caldwell Road, adjacent to the Ashford Park neighborhood. Progress was being made at the site until one potentially fatal “mistake” was made – the “Little White House” was torn down to its foundation without a demolition permit.
According to City documents, because what was once a single family home slated to be “reconstructed” for the new restaurant was demolished, it no longer classifies as a “reconstruction”, meaning if the restaurant will be realized at this address, a new building must be built, and must conform with the Brookhaven Peachtree Overlay District guidelines.
Chef Scott Serpas and property owner Fritz Rybert have traversed nearly every stage of the City’s Community Development process – some multiple times – the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), the Planning Commission and the City Council. In fact, Serpas’ and Rybert’s efforts date back to the City’s very first ZBA meeting in 2013 where an application was denied.
But after modifications and subsequent decisions by the City, back in August of 2015, the City Council approved the rezoning application. Serpas, a Brookhaven resident, owns and operates the popular Serpas True Food in the Old Forth Ward of Atlanta, and the prospects of bringing his culinary expertise to the City has received considerable community support.
Rybert has been in contact with City officials trying to remedy the issue, an issue he says stems from a building inspector finding damage to the original structure that needed to be addressed. He is asking for an Administrative “fix” and claims he would not have torn down the structure if he was not advised to do so.
But City Attorney Chris Balch says in a letter to Rybert, “Other than an allegation that a Building Inspector said, ‘Go ahead and tear it down,’ or words to that effect, there was no documented communication with the Community Development Department to discuss any perceived problems with the structure, any issues destroying the building might cause, or any other aspect of this situation. The building was torn down, thus fully abandoning any prior use of the nonconforming structure and also frustrating condition 1 of the zoning as passed by Council.”
The single-story structure existed before the adoption of the Brookhaven Zoning Code and was effectively “grandfathered in” and the structure was considered a “nonconforming building or use” that may continue as long as the use is not abandoned. “Changing the use or expanding its purpose or destroying the structure constitutes an abandonment,” Balch describes.
In order to proceed, this project must now go back through the entire Brookhaven zoning process and comply with the Zoning Procedures Law. “To do otherwise,” the City says, “risks grave consequences to the ability of the City to control land use within its limits.”
The Zoning Procedures Law provides no exceptions to the requirements for public hearings before a change to zoning is allowed. What the future holds for Serpas’ planned Dixie Moon restaurant at 2536 Caldwell Rd. is now uncertain.