SHERIDAN — A Sheridan neighborhood dispute made it to the state’s Supreme Court this week. A local attorney is suing the owner of Sheridan’s only bed and breakfast.
The Residence Hill Bed and Breakfast, located on Thurmond Street in Sheridan, opened in 2011 after the city’s board of adjustments issued a special exemption for Rob and Bev Bernard to operate the business out of their home. While the six- bedroom house sits in a residentially zoned area, the Bernards were able to get permission from city authorities to fill five of their rooms with guests and operate as a commercial business.
The Bernards have been involved in international missionary work for a number of years, and had planned to use funding generated from their new business to support an orphanage in India. The road to materialize their dream wasn’t without it’s fair share of red tape.
When the Bernards initially applied for permission to run a bed and breakfast in a residential area, their plan included street parking for their guests. Tim Tarver, a Sheridan attorney, lives approximately one block away from the Bernards. He has been fighting the introduction of a business into his neighborhood, citing that parking concerns could create a potential safety hazard.
The Bernards’ initial application was denied on the grounds that the business should establish an alternative parking plan. In response, the Bernards had the yard of the home paved to provide off-street parking to their guests and had the new plan endorsed by the city’s engineer. They then re-filed a new application to run their bed and breakfast, which was approved.
Tarver first took the case to Sheridan’s 4th Judicial District Court, where the court sided with the Bernards. Still unsatisfied with the answer he received there, Tarver continued the appeal process, which landed the case at the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Tarver, representing himself before the court in Cheyenne Wednesday, argued the second application should have been invalidated because the issue had already been decided, a legal principal called res judicata. He argued that the Bernards’ second application should never have been approved because it was nearly identical to the first application, except for the modified parking plan.
Tarver also argued the bed and breakfast created a danger to the neighborhood, was inconsistent with the city’s master plan and that the city’s board of adjustments did not clearly make sufficient findings of fact to substantiate that the proposed business was in compliance with adopted requirements for a special exemption to zoning ordinances.
Furthermore, Tarver re-hashed his argument the city failed to fully consider the impact the business would exert on the surrounding neighborhood. He further maintains the bed and breakfast is not consistent with the outlined goals and policies of the city’s master plan.
Buffalo attorney Chris Wages addressed the court on behalf of the Bernards.
“It’s a six-bedroom house. It could have had five teenagers living in it,” Wages said, indicating a single family might have created more of a parking hazard than a regulated business would.
City of Sheridan Planning Director Robert Briggs said in an out-of-court interview the bed and breakfast sits within a designated R1 zone, which means the area is primarily for single family homes, but can accommodate other infrastructure that meets a specified criteria for inclusion. Bed and breakfast operations are expressly named in potential exemptions for an R1 zone, as are professional offices, churches, hospitals, and other group care facilities, such as a nursing home. Briggs said the Bernards correctly followed protocol by attaining a special exemption from the city’s Board of Adjustments.
Briggs said a similar situation exists in communities around the nation, as most bed and breakfasts are located in a residential zone.
Tarver has continued to protest the business for other reasons, including the potential for attracting unscrupulous visitors to the area.
“The reason for his opposition seems to change as we solve a problem,” Rob Bernard said, indicating the validity of the exemption has been upheld in Sheridan’s 4th Judicial District Court. “As soon as we address one problem, something else comes up.”
“Mr. Tarver gets a number of bites at the apple. He’s taking all of them,” Bernard said. “It’s been and enormous, expensive headache,” he added, indicating the majority of his immediate neighbors have been supportive of his endeavor.
“It’s just the top of the hill that has a problem. I don’t know the motivation behind it,” Bernard said.
Briggs said that though the city of Sheridan is named in the Tarvers’ lawsuit, the city has not incurred legal fees beyond the normal scope of legal services provided by attorneys the city retains.
“His passion is to push this as far as legal channels will allow,” Briggs said. “Now, we’re waiting to see the Supreme Court’s take and see if they find any nuances.”
Bernard said that in 2012, his bed and breakfast logged more than 240 guest nights, and that number increased to 440 in 2013. So far this year, he reports more than 100 bookings.
Residence Hill is the only bed and breakfast in the city of Sheridan. Bernard said his business serves a growing role in promoting Sheridan’s tourist appeal.
The Wyoming Supreme Court will issue a written decision on the matter. The timeframe for the court’s reply is not established.