The operator of a Bed & Breakfast Inn says City Hall’s legal action against the business won’t solve the broader issue of tourism-related concerns such as noise and light.
Brant Wilkins of the Captain Wohlt Inn — the target of an injunction effort scheduled to be heard Tuesday, Feb. 20, in 20th Circuit Court — says the issue extends throughout the city of Hermann and will remain a source of contention until specific areas are carved out for lodging facilities.
“It’s going to be a perpetual fight if we don’t designate a particular area for these activities,” Wilkins told The Hermann Advertiser-Courier in a recent interview.
City Hall is seeking an injunction against the Captain Wohlt Inn because it claims the activity that has taken place at the B&B Inn has violated the zoning ordinance that covers the business.
The inn is located in an area zoned Residential R-2. R-2 allows a higher population density than R-1 (single family) zoning. Bed & Breakfast operations are allowed in R-2 districts.
City government officials declined specific comment on the pending case, referring to the claims contained in the injunction petition.
For instance, the city says, “Numerous times in 2016, the Defendants engaged in activities on the property which: Are not allowed in the City’s R-2 Zoning District; are not consistent with the purpose of the R-2 Zoning District; unreasonably interfere with the public’s health, safety, peace and convenience; and, cause annoyance and discomfort to the citizens of the City of Hermann . . .”
The petition cites several specific instances of what it claims to be a violation of the ordinance:
“The Defendants openly advertised and then held outdoor concerts and parties at the property open to the public, not just guests at the Captain Wohlt Inn. These concerts/parties were sometimes called ‘The Captain Wohlt Inn Summer Music Series’ or ‘Live Music in the Garden.’ At these events there were amplified live and recorded music playing into the late-night hours; sometimes there were dozens of people in attendance who were loud and behaving in a manner consistent with a party atmosphere . . .”
The petition continues that “The crowds were large enough that the Defendants brought in porta-potties; there was food and drink served to people who were not ‘overnight guests’ and which were not ‘morning meals;’ there were fire pits burning and bright lights on until the early-morning hours — sometimes 24 hours a day, and various other entertainment-venue-type activities, all of which occurred outdoors in close proximity to neighboring properties . . .”
Along with Brant Wilkins, the injunction petition also names Kent C. Wilkins, the registered agent, of the company WMW & KCW, Inc., which operates the Captain Wohlt Inn.
The legal action was filed in May and has been taken up and continued several times during the course of the year.
Then-Presiding Judge Gael Wood was hearing the case; he retired late in the year and was succeeded by Craig Hellmann of Washington, who previously served as judge of the Franklin County Municipal Court.
City officials had thought Wood might continue to hear the case in a senior judge capacity, but according to a listing on Case.net, the state’s case-tracking system, Hellmann is assigned to hear the matter.
Wilkins has maintained throughout the course of the dispute that he is being targeted because the Captain Wohlt Inn is a neighboring property to that of Mayor Robert Koerber.
Koerber has been outspoken regarding what he feels is a nuisance resulting from activities at the B&B inn.
Within the past couple years, City Hall tried to curb the problem by cobbling parts of noise-related ordinances from around the country into a local bill. That proposal generated an outpouring of opposition from businesses and residents alike and earned the community ridicule throughout the region for what was widely seen as an effort that would curb tourism.
That legislative effort was quickly abandoned by the Board of Aldermen.
Brandt says there are other lodging facilities in Hermann that offer activities for their guests. He adds that if the city is serious about reducing noise and light around lodging facilities, it will have to go after those B&Bs and guesthouses just as it is targeting the Captain Wohlt Inn.
There is an aspect of this case in particular that has received little attention, but one raised by a former alderman who now serves in the Missouri House of Representatives. State Rep. Justin Alferman noted at the outset of the dispute that the city’s concerns with Wilkins could have been handled — indeed, should have been handled, at least initially — through the administrative process, rather than through a filing in Circuit Court.
Alleged ordinance violations usually are taken up first by a city’s governing body and then in Municipal Court.
“The city has spent more than $10,000 (on pursuing this case) already,” Wilkins claimed, adding that considering such an investment city officials, especially the mayor, can’t afford to end their effort.
“If he backs out now, he’s going to get beat up politically,” Wilkins said.
The B&B operator said he remains committed to reaching a compromise with the city — but so far there’s been no progress
“A compromise is the best thing if we’re thinking about the best thing for Hermann,” he said.