The price was steep, but the accommodations were elegant.
Lamar, who was living in Conyers at the time, said she did it because there wasn’t a comparable event space on this side of Atlanta.
After that, she decided to do something about the lack of elegant event space.
In October 2010, she bought a vacant Wachovia building for $85,000 on Church Street in the city of Lithonia – but not before she met with the City Council.
Lamar showed the city’s Zoning Committee her plans and discussed her vision with the members.
“I have been a Realtor for 13 years,” Lamar said Tuesday. “I know to check the zoning.”
She remembers former council members Doreen Carter, Ric Dodd and Al Franklin and former Mayor Tonya Peterson being present. They said her 3,000-square-foot event center would work in the Neighborhood Shopping District zoning and signed off on her project.
At that meeting, Lamar and her contractor, Vincent Cumberbatch, showed their plans for construction and she shared her vision with the city.
“They took my money and issued the permit,” she said.
In November 2010, she got the first of two building permits from the city and began gutting the building. The project ended up taking two years because of unanticipated repairs in the building constructed in 1978.
Two years later and more than $100,000 in construction costs, the interior renovations were completed in October 2012.
But four months later, Lamar is yet to open her Stone Manor Events Facility at 6347 Church St.
The reason: The city of Lithonia won’t give her a business license to operate.
At its Feb.4 council meetin, Mayor Deborah Jackson said that while the city’s ordinances describe an event facility, it failed to assign it to any of its current zoning categories.
She said council members must now decide whether they want to amend the ordinance to include special events facilities in the Neighborhood Shopping District.
Jackson said the city’s next zoning hearing is scheduled for Feb. 18 and that the City Council meeting was not the proper forum to discuss a zoning issue.
At that decision, Lamar burst into tears and ran from the room. The next day, she said her outburst was caused by the utter despair she is feeling.
“What is two weeks to them is like a year to me,” she said. “I have spent all my money to bring an elegant facility to the city. I am paying a mortgage. I am paying utilities. I am paying contractors and it’s not making anything for me.”
Formalizing city operations
Lamar is distraught because now is the peak season for bookings for weddings, showers and parties.
“I have people ready to book and I can’t take them,” she said.
She said she attended Monday’s meeting expecting the council to vote on her business license because council member Darold Honore told her he would put it on the agenda.
During the meeting, Honore pushed for a vote, saying the city should approve Lamar’s business license.
“I just feel for them because I’m a business person, too,” he said. “We don’t have a process. We don’t even know what a zoning certificate looks like. Why can’t we approve it and keep moving?”
Jackson said business license applications are made to the city clerk and never come before the council for a vote.
City Attorney Winston Denmark told the meeting that the zoning and business license are two separate processes.
“You may qualify for a business license but not be in compliance with zoning,” he said. “You spend your money at your peril if you are not in compliance with zoning. You have to be in compliance with the law.”
Jackson said the city is creating new processes for its operation. “Do we want to have special events facilities in a Neighborhood Shopping District.” she asked. “That’s the decision we have to make.”
Since becoming mayor in January 2012, Jackson has made it her mission to formalize the operations of the city. With the new council that was voted into office the same time she was, Jackson has been reconciling ordinances and installing processes that are common in other Georgia cities. Part of that is also ensuring that city ordinances are followed, as opposed to the old way of operating where contractors did what they wanted and council members make poor decision out of ignorance if the law.
‘There was no vote’
Lamar says she understands that Jackson is developing processes for the city, but she insists that her project was approved and that she should get her license.
She said Jackson should be saying, ‘What can I do to resolve this?,’” “She has the authority and could have issued the business license while they are fixing the zoning,” she said.
On Wednesday, Jackson said that Lamar’s project was never approved by the city.
She said the minutes of the Oct. 25, 2010, meeting do not mention the events facility.
“This means it was not an agenda item and may have come up after the fact as a commentary,” Jackson said, adding that people come to the city all the time to present projects.
“They want to show the city what they want to do and get some feedback,” she said. “That was what happened. Individual council members might have told her they liked her project but there was no vote.”
Lamar said the whole thing has left such a sour taste in her mouth. and she is looking for legal representation.
She said she sought and got approval from the city and it shouldn’t change the rules on her in the middle.
“The principle is I came to them,” she said. “They told me it was OK. You issued the building permit. Now you need to honor that. I should be able to operate my business.”
Franklin, who was chairman of the Zoning Committee in 2010, implored the council to approve Lamar’s business license.
He said he was new to the Zoning Committee at the time and thought a special events facility would be OK in the old bank building since the neighboring Lithonia First United Methodist Church and Henry Funeral Home held events, weddings, banquets and funerals.
Cumberbatch, Lamar’s contractor, said he has done business with a number of other cities and counties. “In every other place they would tell you if you didn’t have zoning before issuing you a building permit,” he said.