Garfield Moss, Bluffton at odds over unlicensed bed-and-breakfast

July 9, 2009 

  • Garfield Moss' bed-and-breakfast might become the first of two overnight lodging options in old-town Bluffton. Developer Thomas Viljac, who renovated the historic Seven Oaks boarding house, is seeking a zoning change that would allow him to operate a bed-and-breakfast there. A workshop is slated for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bluffton Town Hall to discuss the request, which has drawn fire from some residents who don't want commercial space south of Bridge Street.

Garfield Moss, a Bluffton resident who once ran for Town Council and has had a long adversarial relationship with town officials, is running a bed-and-breakfast from his home without the necessary licensing or safety inspections, according to the town's business license office.

Moss said Thursday he's had guests on four occasions since the bed-and-breakfast opened less than a month ago. He charges $150 a night per couple, he said. Rates will probably increase in the fall, he said.

Moss said he's advertised the bed-and-breakfast on online booking sites and through fliers circulating around Bluffton. Reservations are booked for a handful of dates over the next several months, he said.

Moss' wife, Nancy, said the town hasn't told the couple they need a business license to operate, but said they will get one if it is required.

"If that's what they want us to do, we'll do it," she said.

(This story has been edited from the version that appeared in print.)

THE 'LOWCOUNTRY COTTAGE'

The bed-and-breakfast is in an addition to the Mosses' home completed two months ago.

The Bluffton Historic Preservation Commission, which reviews residential renovations in the historic district, approved the addition but did not know it would be used for overnight rental lodging, commission member Doug Corkern said Thursday.

The "Lowcountry Cottage," the one-bedroom, one-bathroom addition with a kitchen and screened porch, has a separate entrance. Guests have access to Moss' swimming pool and grill, Moss said. Breakfast is served daily.

Moss' property, a densely wooded 4.8-acre plot near the corner of Wharf and Lawrence streets, is zoned to allow a bed-and-breakfast, according to a July 2 letter from a member of the town's planning department. The letter came days after Moss met with town staff to ask if the lodging was permissible.

The problem, according to town and state officials, is that the bed-and-breakfast has not been properly approved.

It must be inspected by the town's Department of Building Safety and meet a series of standards that include adequate fire protection and handicap access, among other things. The application process for a business license generally takes about 10 days, according to town staff.

Frank Hodge, director of the Building Safety Department, said he first heard about Moss' bed-and-breakfast after being contacted Thursday by a reporter. Hodge said he would look into it. He could not be reached for comment later in the day.

AN EXPANDING BUSINESS

It is unclear whether the town plans any action against Moss, who has fought frequently with town officials over the years -- especially over how to develop his old-town property. His property is among the largest individually owned, undeveloped parcels in the historic district.

Moss, who is black, has sometimes made accusations of racism. He filed a federal complaint against the town in 2005, alleging that some zoning decisions were made based on his race. The status of that complaint is unknown.

His last public run-in with the town came last year and involved his free golf-cart tours of old town -- a venture for which he received bed tax money in addition to $9,500 from town manager Bill Workman's "special opportunities" fund.

Moss continues to operate those tours, but now charges $8 per person. The tours have no set pick-up or drop-off points. Instead, Moss approaches pedestrians in his cart as they stroll along old town to offer the tours. The tours also are offered to guests of the bed-and-breakfast, Moss said.

A new addition is a Savannah tour in which Moss drives tourists to the city in his Rolls Royce. Rates for the Savannah tour are $125 an hour, he said, and a few groups have taken it since it was first offered several months ago.

Money left over after he and his wife receive hourly wages for running the tours goes to the Non-Profit Housing Corp., he said.

The nonprofit will eventually pay to build affordable housing for low-income families in Bluffton, he said. Moss said the venture will require at least $100,000. He said Thursday his nonprofit has no money in the bank.

"We're in the fundraising stage now," he said.

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