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Can B&Bs Find Happiness in R1 Zones?

August 29, 1985|LIZ McGUINNESS

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.

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