Can B&Bs; Find Happiness in R1 Zones?

Former teachers Shelly and Dan won't publicize exactly where they live; when contacted by The Times they agreed to talk only under pseudonyms.

Although there's no warrant out for their arrest and no officials are trying to track them down, the couple have gotten into a part-time business that they know would be considered illegal in their Orange County beach community:

They are serving as hosts for bed and breakfast guests in their home.

B&B;, it turns out, may be as wholesome as apple pie, it may be big in Britain, it may be a charming way for travelers to get that at-home feeling in a new town but many communities in Orange County--like many others throughout the country--do not look kindly on B&B; in an R1 zone, single-family neighborhoods. And that, of course, is where most B&B; hosts reside.

Within the county, a grab bag of different regulations apply: all the way from outright banning of B&B; to fairly casual acceptance. Until special laws are written, some officials said B&B; would have to meet the tough requirements set up for motels or hotels.

As a result, many host families, most of whom are simply opening their homes without seeking official sanction, feel confused and paranoid--even though almost all cities say they don't pay any attention to B&B; until someone complains.

"Our neighbors all know what we're doing and think it's great," said Dan. "But someone down the street might say, 'We don't want this in our neighborhood.' "

A basic problem, apparently, is that bed and breakfast is just coming of age throughout the United States, and many communities simply have not gotten around to deciding how to deal with it. But they may be forced into action by cases cropping up in different parts of the country. For instance:

- The American Bed & Breakfast Assn., a Washington-based national trade group, reported "a recent flurry of legal actions against B&B;" in its July newsletter.

- The newsletter specifically noted action by supervisors in Northern California's Monterey County last February disallowing B&B; because "the operations are essentially commercial endeavors located in residentially zoned areas." That action, said the newsletter, immediately classified 60 area B&Bs; as illegal.

- Near tony Carmel, in Monterey County, one B&B; operator is fighting county demands for almost $14,000 in back bed taxes, interest and penalties. He faces an additional fine for running a B&B; in an area where zoning regulations exclude B&B; establishments.

- Shelly and Dan, personally, know of a former B&B; hostess living in Newport Beach--one of those cities in which B&B; is illegal in R1 residential areas--who was ordered to stop having paying guests after an anonymous neighbor tipped officials.

Bearing such situations in mind, Shelly and Dan shrug their shoulders at their own brand of "cat and mouse": It's a necessary precaution, they say. However their low public profile has not stood in the way of paying guests. Their home, which can handle four guests in two spare rooms, is listed with three bed and breakfast agencies--which represent individual homes, handling inquiries and making reservations. Shelly and Dan report they have guests an average of 18 to 20 nights out of the month.

"It's a social outlet for us," said Shelly. "The amount of money we make is minimal by the time we get fresh flowers and provide breakfast, wine and hors d'oeuvres."

Shelly and Dan know without bragging about it that they're the kind of couple almost anyone would choose to have next door: They've traveled extensively; they love the arts; they like to entertain--including parties for all their neighbors. Their home is an artistic mix of wood and brick and stained glass; the small front yard is a carefully tended flower garden.

Shelly and Dan do pay self-employment taxes to the IRS on their B&B; income. If their city would only decide on some kind of rules allowing B&B;, "we'd be glad to pay any (local) tax," said Dan, "but we'd hate to get shut down."

"We love to do this so much!" said Shelly.

Home-style bed and breakfast, said Jean Horn, whose Digs West reservation service in Buena Park books travelers into B&Bs; throughout Southern California, can be defined simply: "A bunch of really nice people doing nice things for other nice people."

There are an estimated 150 of those nice hosts in Orange County, although it would be hard to prove. B&Bs; are clustered in the beach communities, where there is the most demand, Horn said, but they can be found in almost every part of the county. With few exceptions, those B&B; homeowners operate strictly through registration services, and both the agencies and the homeowners they represent carefully protect individual hosts' privacy.

Geri Lopker and Joanne Angell put lots of time, money and effort into fixing up their north county tract home for bed and breakfast before they even thought to check for local regulations that might have existed against B&B.;

But they lucked out: Fullerton, where they live, may be the most hospitable community in the county, when it comes to B&B.;

As a city already used to dealing with students who rent rooms around its university, Fullerton has pulled B&B; in under rules set up for boarding/lodging homes. Those rules allow homeowers to rent a maximum of two rooms to up to three unrelated people. No permit is required.

"My personal view," said Karen Atkinson, Fullerton zoning enforcement officer, "is that bed and breakfast is great PR for any city or country."

It was a happy break for Lopker and Angell, who are now among the small number of county B&B; home-stay hosts who can feel completely "legal."

"We've registered with the city; we pay our taxes," said Lopker.

Both Lopker and Angell are health professionals: Lopker, an occupational therapist with the Visiting Nurse Assn.; Angell, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice.

They share a pleasure in entertaining and have gone to some effort to make sure guests enjoy their stay:

The front bedroom has been fixed up with matched blue-print sheets, pillowcases and comforter; a ceiling fan circulates the air; an 1800s-vintage desk, chest and wardrobe combination stand against one wall; a basket holds small personal items a guest might need, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and shampoo. They've made their home "handicapped-accessible," with adaptive equipment.

Breakfast is served in the family room; blue print place mats are topped with matching napkins intricately folded to represent birds of paradise. Both a bicycle-built-for-two and a 10-speed are available for guests to use.

Breakfast on a recent morning was scrambled eggs, bacon, orange juice, a bowl of mixed fresh fruit with cherries and walnuts, a large croissant and coffee. Sometimes there is quiche or homemade bran muffins.

"We really get a charge out it," said Lopker.

Their first guest arrived last October, after they signed up with Digs West. Since then the two have had guests "maybe one or two weekends a month," said Lopker. They charge $36 a night for the room, whether for one or two people--"not enough to get rich," they agree.

Neighbors, said the two, have been pleased to have them nearby. "These are small homes, 30 years old," said Lopker, "mostly with a one-car garage, two bedrooms and one bath." When relatives come to visit, neighbors sometimes make a reservation for them with Lopker and Angell, whose home is one of those in the area with added-on space that allows guests.

"And we're very quiet," said Angell. "Probably one of the quietest homes in the neighborhood."

The rest of Orange County is a mixed bg of regulations regarding B&B;:

San Clemente has adopted an ordinance allowing bed and breakfast within R1 (single family residence) zones. In that community, families may accept bed and breakfast guests after obtaining an inexpensive "home-stay" permit, which limits B&B; activity to 20% of the home space and imposes other restrictions to assure that neighbors will not be disturbed.

Laguna Beach has decided that B&Bs; are not allowed in R1 areas, and even in multiunit zones they are restricted to homes with historical significance. Anaheim restricts B&B; to homes that are architecturally or historically significant and that meet other restrictions.

Most other cities say that if forced to rule on B&B;, they would simply begin applying existing laws--most written for the hotel/motel or room rental trade--to B&Bs.; In some, that would mean applying for a conditional use permit, costing up to $1,100, with no guarantee of approval.

In spite of such potential legal tangles, B&B; continues to expand. "There is a lot of activity all over," said Mary Kim, American Bed and Breakfast Assn. administrator, talking by phone from Washington.

"I'm sure more than 10,000 homes (nationwide) are involved now. Bed and breakfast has been around a long time," she said, but it "took off in 1980-81." And California, Kim said, is now joining the New England states and Florida as the "hot" B&B; destinations in the country.

Within Orange County, seven local bed and breakfast agencies represent homeowners and inns.

Working out of San Juan Capistrano, Deborah Sakach runs three of those agencies: Hospitality Plus, which specializes in California; Christian Bed and Breakfast, a national service, and American Historic Homes Bed and Breakfast, another national agency.

Other services in the county include Jean Horn's Digs West; Bed and Breakfast of Southern California, which Joyce Garrison operates from Fullerton; Bed and Breakfast Rent-A-Room, Esther MacLachlan, Garden Grove, and Bed and Breakfast Laguna Beach, Leigh Sauser.

Bed and Breakfast of Los Angeles, headquartered in Westlake Village, is among other agencies with Orange County listings. "Many people who come out to Los Angeles for a visit will want to spend a couple of days around the studios area and Hollywood, then Disneyland and the Newport/Laguna area," said Peg Marshall, co-owner.

B&B; stays in private homes, such as those offered by Lopker and Angell, are the backbone of the bed and breakfast business, according to the American Bed & Breakfast Assn. newsletter: They make up 80% of activity among association members.

These homes, said the newsletter, "should not be confused with commercial ventures such as B&B; inns." In fact, suggested the newsletter, just such confusion is a major reason for some communities' hard-line approach to bed and breakfast operations.

Cities fear complaints of someone "running a motel out of their home," said the newsletter, although "B&B; homes on a national scale average only three guests per month" and "total annual earnings seldom are in excess of $500 and can be classified as 'hobby income.' "

The association recommends that breaking B&B; into two specific categories--home-stay and commercial--would be a priority step toward solving the problem.

B&B; agencies typically represent both homes and small commercial inns offering bed plus breakfast. Hospitality Plus' Sakach said about half her requests these days are for the inns . . . possibly because that seems to be a comfortable "first step" into B&B; travel.

One of those she represents is Casa Hermosa, 34532 Camino Capistrano, Capistrano Beach.

Dan Dutton, formerly a shoe retailer, and Pat Kelly, an artist who has shown his work for the past 25 years at the Festival of Arts, bought the 56-year-old colonial Spanish home that sits on a beach-view palisade as their private residence.

Casa Hermosa, which has been accepting B&Bers; for 2 1/2 years, is the kind of picturesque, welcoming home that gets gushing comments in its guest book: "Perfect way to end a honeymoon," "This is the 'Ritz' for us," "Thank you for a very special anniversary." Elmer Dills has bestowed his blessing with a glowing TV review.

"We've turned it into a romantic hideaway," Dutton said, beaming. "Just last weekend one couple were here on their second anniversary. They were here last year on their first anniversary, here before on their honeymoon and here before that as a couple!"

Breakfast at Casa Hermosa offers enough choices to require a menu. With sufficient notice, the gourmet cook owners also will turn out a five-course dinner with complimentary wine, all for $12.50 per person.

With only four carefully decorated rooms available, and with a room for two going for $65 to $75, Casa Hermosa never will make Dutton and Kelly wealthy. But it makes them happy, Dutton said, and that's what counts.

Among Orange County's other inns, Seal Beach Inn and Gardens, 215 5th St., is the oldest: The inn, which offers 24 rooms and suites in a Mediterranean villa setting, can trace its history back to the Roaring '20s, when the city had hotels, bath palaces and gambling casinos that drew the "infamous and famous," according to Marjorie Bettenhausen, who shares ownership with her husband, Jack.

Most expensive, where a couple can spend $120 to $225 per night, is Doryman's Inn, just across from Newport pier. Doryman's owners, Rick and Jeanne Lawrence, spent 4 years and $1.5 million turning it into a small, but exquisitely detailed, 10-room inn. "It used to have one bath for all 10 rooms, with hibachis in the corridors, dogs, cats and birds," said Jeanne. "It was really a flophouse." Now each room has a private bath, with its own marble sunken tub, as well as its own fireplace.

Fixing it up, Jeanne added, was "a real labor of love."

Looking forward to the end of bed and breakfast's legal limbo, both national and regional B&B; groups have called for meetings among members.

"I think that within the next 12 months, we're going to have to come out very formally with a definition of what constitutes B&B; in a private home: how many guests, what kind of income . . . ," Mary Kim said.

Meanwhile, some city officials suggested that they, too, are rooting for bed and breakfast:

"Frankly, we'd like to see some of our older, Victorian houses that are no longer suitable for just single family use . . . put into that kind of use," said Phil Freeland, Santa Ana's executive director for community development and housing. "It's a neat kind of urban living situation."

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