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Camden B&B rules being changed

Will increase number of allowable rooms from three to five

Posted: December 2, 2010 9:42 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2010 5:00 a.m.

If Camden City Council signs off on a Camden Planning Commission (CPC) recommendation, Camden’s bed and breakfasts, or B&Bs, will be allowed to have more guests.

CPC members voted 5-1 Tuesday night following a short public hearing to increase the number of allowed rooms per establishment from three to five. Other language in the ordinance is being changed to more fully align with state code, which allows up to 10 rooms per B&B.

The only “no” vote came from Commissioner Julie McIntyre, who announced her resignation at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. McIntyre said she and her husband, Jim, are moving to Columbia to deal with her health issues. It was learned after the meeting that Jim McIntyre recently resigned from his chairmanship of the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission.

Commissioner Joanna Craig was absent.

McIntyre said she was voting against the B&B changes after she questioned the need for more B&B rooms in Camden. She also expressed concern the ordinance did not adequately protect the historic homes that are transformed into B&Bs or their historic neighbors.

“Has a study been conducted into the necessity of more rooms?” asked McIntyre.

City Planner Shawn Putnam said he was not aware of any.

However, four people speaking during the public hearing all said there was a need for an increase.

Restaurateur Jon Bazinet, Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center Executive Director Liz Horton, resident Bob Vaughn and Bloomsbury Inn owner Bruce Brown all came out in favor of the changes.

“I’m surprised bed and breakfasts are only allowed three,” said Bazinet. “They help to fill a void … and support tourism. There’s nowhere else to stay downtown. They are gems of the city.”

Bazinet also said those who stay at B&Bs tend to be people with disposable incomes who eat lunch and dinner at Camden restaurants.

Horton said B&Bs pull in $8.7 million in revenue in South Carolina.

“And that doesn’t even reflect the impact they have on the local economy,” said Horton. “They well-represent the city of Camden and are great community supporters. Tourists need more quality lodgings and they are a means to open historic homes to the public.”

Horton also said she wanted to dispel some myths about B&Bs:

• That there are more rooms than visitors -- “actually, there are too few rooms.”

• That B&Bs cause traffic and parking problems -- “they are required to park off-street.”

• That they cause noise problems for their neighbors -- Horton said B&B visitors tend to be some of the quietest tourists.

• That more B&Bs will over saturate the market -- “each B&B is unique and they aren’t really competitive with each other.”

Horton also said B&Bs can help people recognize Camden as a destination and not just somewhere to pass through.

Vaughn, who lives with his wife on Pine Street, said they quietly operate their home as a B&B.

“The need for rooms is so great that we have been able to let rooms just by word of mouth,” said Vaughn. “I don’t think (increasing the number of rooms) will be troublesome and we certainly don’t want to discourage anyone’s entry into the market.”

Brown pointed out that at the moment Camden has only five licensed B&B establishments and only two of those -- the Camden House and his own Bloomsbury -- are running actively full time.

“The entire city is (currently) limited to 15 rooms,” said Brown.

He called B&Bs “tourist magnets” and said they neither compete with themselves nor hotels and motels.

“Each is unique,” Brown said. “Cities with a strong B&B industry attract tourists. And they bring in upper middle class tourists looking for an experience. They are the ideal visitor.”

Brown said B&B lodgers become customers for downtown Camden’s small businesses.

“In today’s economy, they also allow historic homes to be preserved -- they are the one venue the public can support simply by staying the night,” said Brown.

McIntyre said she was still concerned that increasing the number of B&B rooms -- which might attract more B&B proprietors -- could impact the city’s historic integrity.

“If everyone changes the value of their building … could that impact our historic district designation?” asked McIntyre. “I’m glad to see Camden support bed and breakfasts, but we have hotels -- have they expressed any concern?”

McIntyre also wondered if there was a way to require higher standards of review for new B&Bs that decide to open in Camden in the same area as an existing B&B.

“That would clearly be unconstitutional,” said City Attorney Charles Cushman who was in attendance.

Commissioner Byron Johnson said he agreed McIntyre’s concerns were valid, but didn’t agree that it was the CPC’s place to deal with those concerns.

“It’s incumbent on the property owner to make that determination,” said Johnson, referring to McIntyre’s suggestion for a study on whether or not more B&B rooms are needed.

Chairman Bill Ligon agreed with Johnson.

“These are market-driven decisions,” Ligon said. “It’s not our responsibility to determine if more B&Bs are needed in the same way it’s not our responsibility to determine if more restaurants are needed.”

Other proposed changes to the B&B ordinance include:

• Prohibiting off-street (on-premise) parking from the front, side or rear setback areas. Allowed parking areas are not to be surfaced with impervious materials. On-street parking is strictly prohibited.

• Allowing for an afternoon social or tea in addition to breakfast but only if included in the room rate.

• Allowing for retail sales, but limiting such sales to postcards, shirts and “other small gift items directly associated with the use for purchase by registered guests only.”

• Codifying a requirement that residences cannot be occupied as a B&B until a city business license has been procured, proof of insurance shown, passed an inspection by the city’s fire marshal and received a certificate of occupancy.

• Adding a requirement for B&B permit applications to be mailed to neighboring property owners.

After announcing her resignation and being allowed to call for the motion to adjourn Tuesday’s meeting, McIntyre had a final message for her fellow commissioners and the public:

“I just hope progress can be approached with an appreciation for history,” said McIntyre. “People come to live in Camden because they love this history of this town.”

The CPC normally meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month. It moved its November meeting to Tuesday to accommodate commissioners’ Thanksgiving plans. It will not meet in December. The commission’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 25, 2011. All meetings are open to the public.

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