Jackson County

Permit tabled for Scott Walker's Ocean Springs bed-and-breakfast



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OCEAN SPRINGS -- The city Planning Commission will take more time to review Scott and Trinity Walker's permit application to turn their East Beach home into a bed-and-breakfast.

After a lengthy executive session Tuesday evening, the commission voted 7-0 to review and consider the application and the recent public input that opposed it.

The Walkers' property is in a pricey neighborhood, on the water along East Beach, but that shouldn't be a factor in the decision, city officials say. Bed-and-breakfasts have been allowed in the city for 20 years and are less controversial than the more-recent trend -- short-term rentals.

The Walkers kicked up controversy over their beach property in January when Scott Walker announced plans to rent the house -- weekly as a short-term rental or by the day as an exclusive wedding venue -- before they had applied for the proper city permits.

Scott Walker, a local business consultant and former mayoral candidate, had just returned home from a stint in federal prison and made the announcement in an article on the front page of the Sun Herald. He and his wife had already set up a website seeking renters, though there was a waiting list of homeowners ahead of them seeking the proper permits. The city sent letters telling the Walkers to stop.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Walkers' attorney, Billy Guice, urged the board to make a decision based only on the law and not on the fears of the public.

"This is a use permit and there should not be a lot of discussion," he said. "Mr. and Mrs. Walker have met the requirements to have a bed-and-breakfast. I submit to you, this body is without discretion to reject the permits. To do so would be the very definition of an arbitrary and capricious act."

Guice said the commission has granted permits to other bed-and-breakfast establishments and should not discriminate against the Walkers.

The commission opened the floor to the public comment, first asking proponents of the application to step forward and deliver comments. No one stepped forward.

The floor was then opened to opponents, and three residents commented.

Maralou Richards voiced opposition to the bed-and-breakfast, saying it would open the door for other commercial establishments and eventually ruin the tranquility of the neighborhood.

"Ocean Springs has changed so much that its really nice to have a few spots that are like the old Ocean Springs used to be," she said. "I just hate to see all of us losing the opportunity to have the tranquility of East Beach."

The commission did not say when it would reconsider the Walkers' application.