BLUFFTON

Bluffton business owners' noise complaint backfires

achristnovich@beaufortgazette.comNovember 9, 2012 

Gill and Anna Fisher thought they had been running their business -- 1 Contemporary Furniture -- out of their apartment on Dr. Mellichamp Drive for the past nine years.

They were wrong.

After town officials reviewed zoning maps, the Fishers were told they were living in a building meant exclusively for commercial use. They now they have 30 days to find a new home.

Ironically, that discovery came after they complained a neighbor was violating Town of Bluffton rules.

Here's how things unfolded:

CrossFit 843 opened for business in August in a space about 30 feet from their door. Soon afterward, 5:30 a.m. fitness classes began, and so did the music the Fishers say rattled their windows and furniture.

They filed a noise complaint Oct. 12 and a second on Oct. 31, according to Bluffton Police Department records.

The couple ship eclectic sculptures and paintings, oversize chairs, sleek dining tables and other furniture all over the country but say they don't heavily rely on local customers; thus, it's easier for them to have a home-based operation, Gill Fisher said.

CrossFit 843 owner Martin Catalioto said he responded to the Fishers' complaints by reducing the number of speakers he uses from four to two, adding more rubber mats to muffle noise, and changing workout routines and rules so gym-goers wouldn't drop bar bells.

But that didn't prevent the Fishers from filing their second complaint.

While investigating their claim, town officials checked the town's noise ordinance and zoning for the area. Bluffton Police found the gym wasn't violating the noise ordinance, according to Police Chief Joey Reynolds.

However, an official with the town's growth-management department said the building where the Fishers live is permitted for commercial occupancy, and the town determined residential use was not allowed.

Gill Fisher said he and his wife planned to move eventually; now, they'll have to do so more quickly.

Anna Fisher said they moved in nine years ago and started the business later. They didn't think the building was exclusively for commercial use because it has the creature comforts of a home -- a bathroom, a master bedroom with closets and a kitchen. The building was occupied by someone else before they moved in, Anna Fisher said. Beaufort County property records show the building was constructed in 1998 and is described as a "warehouse showroom store."

"It's a big surprise, but we'll manage," Anna Fisher said Friday. "We've stayed here for nine years and no one said anything."

The Fishers are allowed to continue to run their business on Dr. Mellichamp Drive, but said they're looking to move it to a building where they can legally live and work.

"Maybe we'll find a new place," Anna Fisher said. "Maybe Hilton Head Island or somewhere else. It will take time."

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