Tryon leaning towards allowing commercial activity at Lake Lanier Tea House

Published 10:02 pm Friday, September 23, 2016

The Town of Tryon is currently considering amending its Lake Lanier restrictions to allow commercial activity over the lakebed at the Tea House boat dock. The town held a public hearing on Tuesday and is drafting language for the change. In order for commercial activity to be allowed there, the town would also have to get Greenville County to amend its zoning ordinance. (photo by Leah Justice)

The Town of Tryon is currently considering amending its Lake Lanier restrictions to allow commercial activity over the lakebed at the Tea House boat dock. The town held a public hearing on Tuesday and is drafting language for the change. In order for commercial activity to be allowed there, the town would also have to get Greenville County to amend its zoning ordinance. (photo by Leah Justice)

LAKE LANIER – After an hour-long public hearing over whether the Town of Tryon should allow commercial activity at the boathouse of the Lake Lanier Tea House, commissioners are looking into allowing the change.

Prior to commercial use being allowed, Greenville County would also have to approve an amendment to its zoning ordinance for the lake, which currently is strictly residential.

The Tryon Board of Commissioners met Tuesday, Sept. 20 and heard from lake residents, mostly in favor of allowing commercial activity at the boathouse.

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The Tryon Board of Planning and Adjustment recommended the town amend section 7 of the town’s Declaration and Regulations and Restrictions Governing the Use of the Lake Bed at Lake Lanier to allow the Tea House to have commercial activity over the lake.

The text amendment is proposed to state that commercial and business activities conducted over the lakebed are prohibited except by the existing Lake Lanier Tea House and its existing dock and boat garage.

Tryon Community Development Director Paula Kempton told commissioners that the regulations have been in place since about 1990. She also said Greenville County, S.C. also has zoning over all of the Lake Lanier area, with the lake being zoned residential.

“Basically, commercial is not allowed in that zoning district,” Kempton said of Greenville County’s zoning.

Kempton said since the area is zoned residential by Greenville County, if Tryon allows commercial activity then there is the potential the town could be acting  contrary to Greenville County zoning. If the town makes the amendment to its restrictions, the town would have to go to Greenville County and ask that they rezone the area to allow the Tea House to conduct commercial activities over the lake bed.

Tea House owner Mark Kerhulas said his whole thoughts were to correct an oversight. Kerhulas said his family had no idea they were zoned not commercial. Kerhulas said they only thing he wants to do is accent the business of the Tea House with the dock. He said people could go in for dinner and they may be waiting for a table and they could go to the dock and after dinner they could go back there. He said activity that has gone on prior at the Tea House when he leased the property was a nightmare.

“I’m not trying to turn this into a dance club,” Kerhulas said. He said he’s just trying to return the property back to the way it was.

George May asked about people taking drinks from the Tea House to the dock.

“If a person goes to that restaurant and orders a drink and drinks over the dock, to me that’s nothing different than making a drink at my house and enjoying it over the water,” May said.

May said his problem was that the Tea House was going to have a commercial bar to sell drinks over the water.

Kerhulas answered, “No.” 

Town attorney Bailey Nager told commissioners they need to understand the request has been made that would allow commercial activity at this particular boat house, which is going to allow any commercial activity. Nager said even though the current owner says his intentions are x, y and z, the board has to be prepared for all manners of commercial activity or the town will have to tighten up and say they will approve certain commercial activity but no other commercial activity.

Stu Davidson said he lives directly across from the Tea House and it was basically a nightmare with the bands. He said he could feel the music in his house from the bands and a lot of neighbors felt it also on other parts of the lake. Davidson said there were people standing in the road drunk. He said he ended up dealing with Greenville County with complaints, but the previous owner just kept on doing it. Greenville County cited people with tickets for the county’s noise ordinance, according to Davidson.

“I don’t want to go through another 3-4 years of this,” Davidson said.

Davidson also said the dock that is there currently is not approved by the town, specifically the second story.

“It would be great if it were a nice quiet restaurant, like Theo (Kerhulas) had,” Davidson said. “When you zone something commercial it’s wide open.”

Robin Edgar said she has no doubt that Kerhulas’ intentions are good but the property is for sale. She said the permitting will be there and things could happen again like Davidson discussed.

“To change something for an individual means to change something for generations,” Edgar said.

Kerhulas said sure it’s for sale. He said the boathouse is a valuable piece of that property.

“I don’t want it to be a problem for anybody,” Kerhulas said.

Kerhulas also responded to Davidson saying the drunks in the street were from another boathouse, not the Tea House.

Allen Smith said the 1982 deed makes reference that the rights people enjoyed were not to be changed by the Town of Tryon, then in 1990 the town writes the encroachments and they write out the Tea House.

“I don’t see how they had the right to write out the events the Tea House had enjoyed,” Smith said. “The place sitting there empty is a detriment to all property values.”

Smith said Kerhulas has 92 signatures on a petition and allowing commercial activity will make the lake better and make Tryon better.

He said yes, the activity needs to be controlled, but there is a noise ordinance in Greenville County and people can call the law.

Smith also said there was a restaurant there when property owners on the lake bought their property.

Brad Whitney said the Tea House is an integral part of the lake community and the lake needs the Tea House back. He said he’s been told he cannot take his pontoon and tie up and go to the Tea House, which is “ridiculous.”

Jerry Atkins said everyone thinks of “good ‘ole Theo Kerhulas” and what a wonderful place he ran. Atkins said providing for weddings is a no brainer, but serving drinks curbside for boats “is a no, no.”

“Once you design it commercial, it opens up Pandora’s Box,” Atkins said.

Steve Carruth said he equates this to people who buy property next to a football field.

“The bottom line is folks, it’s a lake. It’s enjoyed by hundreds of people. They make noise, boats make noise and bands make noise,” Carruth said.

Kerhulas said he’s not talking about an every day thing. He said the previous bands played maybe once a month in the summer. They did have a house band that played inside on the weekends.

Tim Wright said he lives on Lake Adger now but lived on Lake Lanier in the 1970s. He said over the years he’s watched that lake evolve.

“To me, Lake Lanier is not Lake Lanier without the Tea House,” Wright said. “I hate to see this squabbling. I think you guys need to get together and work this out. That lake was developed around the Tea House.”

In discussing the proposed amendment following the public hearing, commissioners seemed in favor of the amendment but want specific language to be drafted by Nager and reviewed by Kerhulas.

Commissioners decided make their final decision during the next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 18. If the town approves its amendment, the town and Kerhulas would have to petition Greenville County to amend its zoning ordinance to allow the Tea House boathouse and dock to have commercial activity. Commercial activity over the lakebed would only be allowed if Greenville County approves the amendment.