Planning Commission denies request for commercial meeting privileges at Ravenna

Published 3:05 pm Friday, March 22, 2024

NATCHEZ — The city’s planning commission denied a request from the owners of the historic house Ravenna for a special use permit that would have allowed them to charge for and hold events like weddings, parties, and corporate retreats.

Neighbors of the property showed up at the planning commission meeting Thursday evening and objected to the request.

Carl Beasley, who owns Ravenna, 8 Ravenna Lane, also asked for a special use permit to add two additional bed and breakfast units to the three presently operated at the house. Planning commissioners approved that request.

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Neighbors who live primarily on South Union Street complained that the roadway is too narrow to accommodate increased traffic and the streets and Ravenna property do not have parking spaces necessary for commercial events to be held on the property.

Frankie Legaux, the Natchez city planner, said the city’s ordinance that governs special use permits for commercial events does not dictate how many parking spaces should be available. She said at one time Ravenna had a special use permit with commercial meeting privileges that allowed up to 50 people outside and 25 people inside. She said Beasley’s application meets the requirements for the special use permits he seeks.

“The fire marshal sets the number of people allowed. Generally, it’s 7 square feet per person in the interior,” Legaux said.

“We are not looking to be a Dunleith or a Linden. We seek small, intimate events, like our daughter’s wedding, which we hosted recently,” Beasley said.

He said guests would have to park on the streets around Ravenna, “but we would make sure no one’s driveway is blocked.”

“We are not trying to impose on the neighbors, just bring some more money to Natchez,” Beasley said.

Walter Brown of 513 S. Union St. spoke for the dozen or so neighbors who attended the meeting Thursday evening.

“The Beasleys are very nice people, but we have two different views on the use of the property,” Brown said.

He said the issues involve property owners on South Union, South Commerce, Harrison Street and Ravenna Lane.

“Our neighborhood is a beautiful and unique part of Natchez. We have five houses across the street, and only two have driveways. The others park on the street and each house has two vehicles. Also, these are narrow streets and have to be treated in a special kind of way. This is not like Dunleith or Monmouth, where they have plenty of room to come and go,” Brown said. “In the last 22 years, Ravenna has changed hands five times. The Beasleys are good folks, but the Beasleys want to turn Ravenna into a resort. I’m opposed to that because of traffic congestion and the safety of people who live here.

“I have children and grandchildren who utilize my property. It is a problem for me, personally, to just safely get out of my driveway as it is now,” he said. “If granted, commercial meeting privileges would be a detriment to the neighborhood, and I think neighbors would attest to that. It is not going to increase the value of my property; it’s going to detract from it.”

Ravenna neighbor Mary Ann Blough said the recent wedding hosted at Ravenna was “very loud” and aggravated a condition she has with migraine headaches.

“I went to the back of the house, but that didn’t help. We are so close together in the neighborhood. I know it sounds curmudgeonly, but it was too loud to allow that there,” Blough said. “I’m sure the wedding was beautiful, but I would not like for them to have weddings there because of how loud it was.”

Charlie Hill, who lives at 514 S. Union, said he is also concerned about increased traffic, parking, and noise from a commercial venue.

“I am concerned about the unique character of that block. It’s really a dead-end street. It’s a quiet street. If this becomes a commercial business, issues of traffic, parking, and noise could be unlimited. They could have a commercial endeavor every weekend,” Hill said.

Commissioner Jonathan Smith moved to allow Beasley a special use variance to add two additional bed and breakfast units but without commercial meeting privileges. Commissioner Marsha McCullough seconded that motion. All voted to approve except Commissioner Dan Hays-Clark.

In other business, the commission:

• approved granting a variance to Brian Smith of 96 Hunter’s Lane to the street right of way and a variance to the front and rear setbacks to property on Hunter’s Lane to allow for the construction of single-family homes there.

• approved a request from Joseph Brown to operate property at 705 Washington St. as four short-term rentals and approved a variance to the city’s ordinance requiring 300 feet between such facilities.

• approved a request from Wes and Tammy Pack for a variance to the city’s ordinance to allow them to operate a one-bedroom short-term rental at Holly Hedges, 214 Washington St.