Brookhaven, GA, September 12, 2016 – Letter to the Editor, submitted by Fritz Rybert (Land Owner) and Scott Serpas (Restaurateur) – For nearly four-years, Fritz Rybert and Scott Serpas have been trying to put a restaurant in an old home located at 2536 Caldwell Road in the City of Brookhaven. Last month, another road block was thrown at them as the City issued a stop work order and revoked construction permits halting all construction on the site.
The legal entanglements put on them by the City border on the absurd. The owner has run the gamut of local government: variance hearings, administrative appeal hearings, a rezoning, and now another administrative appeal challenging the City’s most recent revocation of development permits. While the property owner has wrestled with the City, the neighborhood is growing more and more impatient at the manner in which the City has handled this matter.
First, the property owners were advised to seek a variance from the Brookhaven-Peachtree Overlay District. The variance was denied. Rybert was then told that he could not develop a restaurant at all because the property’s zoning did not permit the requested restaurant. Years ago, the property was rezoned by DeKalb County to a PC-2 Zoning District for a mixed use project that never came to fruition, but included a restaurant site on this very location. The City advised Rybert to submit a zoning modification request. Upon submission, the City refused to accept the zoning modification request stating that Rybert needed authorizations from all property owners in the PC-2 Zoning District. Rybert filed an administrative appeal to the City’s determination, which was subsequently denied by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
In 2015, after a law suit was filed by Rybert a text amendment to the City’s Zoning Code, Rybert and Serpas were able to file a rezoning application which finally resulted in a neighborhood shopping zoning classification allowing the proposed restaurant use and building. This zoning would allow them to repair and restore the existing house for their restaurant.
As they began the restoration process they discovered the house had extensive termite damage. Upon inspection by The City of Brookhaven building inspection department it was determined by both the contractor and the City building inspector that the termite-damaged portions of the house must be removed in order to restore the building to a safe condition.
The City’s Code requires that damaged and unsafe buildings or structures must be restored to a safe condition. That is exactly what the property owner did by removing the damaged wood. Of course, the building was to be built back exactly as permitted the only difference being that it would be rebuilt with new structurally sound wood vs. termite infested and rotten wood. The original footprint and foundation are to remain. Now they have a stop work order and the City is telling them to bring the house into conformity under the overlay which requires all two-story, more density, pushing the building closer to and looming over the existing neighborhood and more parking, which is not possible.
Rybert and Serpas again find themselves before the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals in October. This will be their third visit to the Zoning Board of Appeals since purchasing the property. These delays are costing Rybert and Serpas tens of thousands of dollars and the City is losing thousands of dollars because of all of the dilatory tactics not to mention the legal fees being paid by the taxpayers and residents of Brookhaven for preventing something the neighbors see as a tremendous asset to the neighborhood……. the construction of a new restaurant owned by a world-class chef and a resident of the neighborhood!
Simply put, Rybert and Serpas are simply trying to open a business that the neighborhood has embraced and helps to create the platform for continued growth in a neighborhood that is weary of the multitude of multi – family rental properties.
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