Neighbors of the Hub hotel say it’s a menace, and the city of Sandy Springs says it violates zoning ordinances. But an attorney for the extended-stay hotel says it’s operating within the law.
The Hub’s lawyer, William Galloway, says he will appeal to superior court the city’s decision that the property is violating zoning ordinances by operating as a dorm. But Galloway said the hotel’s owners want to work with neighbors and the city to come to a resolution without involving a judge.
The Sandy Springs Board of Appeals on April 10 upheld a city staff declaration that the Hub, located at 6096 Barfield Road, is violating zoning ordinances by functioning as dorm housing for Art Institute of Atlanta students. It is not operating, the city says, as the extended-stay hotel that the Barfield Road property is zoned for.
Residents of neighborhoods near the Hub have long complained that the hotel’s tenants are disruptive and have brought crime to the immediate area. Neighborhood representatives showed up at the hearing to tell the board their complaints.
“The students living at the facility have been extremely loud,” said Sam Mickelson, a building owner at nearby Perimeter Ridge.
He said the students frequently come into Perimeter Ridge’s parking lot. He said one of his tenants has already moved out as a result and another is refusing to sign a new lease.
Mike Ellison, representing the Homeowners Association of Westbury Square, which is adjacent to the Hub, told the board that “it’s very loud all the time” and “we have dumpster fires when we’re trying to go to bed at night, 20 police cars with their lights on . . . We have constant trespassing because they’re a gated community, they don’t let their tenants’ friends in so they come park over in our parking lot, climb fences, hang out in our pool house.”
Ruth Coan, board chairwoman, said shortly before the board’s vote, “In my mind this is functioning as a dormitory, not as a hotel.”
After the board’s ruling, Galloway said, “We will appeal that decision but will make every effort to work out an amicable solution.”
He said that the ruling does not mean the Hub has to shut down right away. Instead, a ruling to shut down is stayed, pending the outcome of the appeal, which could take anywhere from six months to a year or so.
The case against the Hub stretches back to the end of 2012. In October of that year the city’s code enforcement officer issued a citation to Karen Suri, the Hub’s managing partner, for violating a zoning condition, having no business license and no banner permit.
Hub representatives later requested that Community Development Department Director Angela Parker issue a “Letter of Determination” so that they could understand and correct any problems. Parker issued the letter in December 2013 stating that the property was acting as an apartment, had not paid required hotel/motel tax at that time, and was not open to the public to rent rooms.
Parker said that the hotel zoning ordinance for extended-stay facilities limits stays to fewer than 30 days, while Galloway stated that the students’ average length of stay was four to six months. Parker said city staff members had posed undercover trying to rent rooms, and were informed that the facility is an Art Institute dorm.
“In the late summer of 2012 it was brought to the staff’s attention that this facility had changed owners and that the use of the property had changed,” Parker told the board. “As a result of that notice we began an investigation of that property and determined that yes, in fact, it was operating in violation of the zoning ordinance. It was being used as rental housing, student housing, for the Art Institute of Atlanta.”
However, Hub representatives maintain that the property rents available rooms to the public, has a website that promotes it as a hotel, and has installed a “No Vacancy/Vacancy” sign with a posted reservations phone number. In 2013, the Hub obtained a business license for hotel use and has since paid the taxes owed, Galloway said.
Galloway says that it’s common practice for hotels to be leased to schools for student use. “This is not an anomaly,” he said, adding that schools such as UCLA implement the practice at facilities including Marriott and Hilton.
According to police reports provided by a nearby Autumn Chace resident, there were 12 police calls from April 1, 2011, to Oct. 1, 2012, at the Hub, then a Residence Inn. After Oct. 1, 2012, when the property became the Hub, through March 2014, there were 76 police calls.
Galloway said the Hub is trying to rectify its problems. He said one step the hotel has taken is to use a hotel management company that has opened some of the rooms to the public.
“There were clearly a lot of residents and business owners [at the appeal hearing] affected by guests at the hotel. We need to have that stopped.”
He said he hopes the Art Institute addresses the problems, too. “This has shone a light on the issue for the Art Institute, and I think this will make it a priority for them to take some actions,” Galloway said.
Art Institute spokeswoman Kim Resnik said that zoning concerns are that of the property owner, not of the school, which leases the rooms.
“The Hub were some Art Institute students are temporarily housed is private property,” she said. “Any zoning concerns go to the property owner.”