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Neighbors Spar Over Bed-and-Breakfast : Housing: Couple's plan to rent one floor of their historic home to overnight guests has caused residents sleepless nights.

August 01, 1993|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SOUTH PASADENA — Residents of a fashionable South Pasadena neighborhood hope to persuade city officials this week to turn down the plans of a couple who want to make their Victorian home the city's first bed-and-breakfast establishment.

Russell and Leonore Butcher bought their 105-year-old mansion at 201 Orange Grove Ave., just inside South Pasadena's northern border, two years ago with the dream of turning three of its rooms into accommodations for paying guests.

The couple would be the first to take advantage of an ordinance approved by the City Council in April, allowing bed-and-breakfasts with up to six rooms in historic homes within residential areas. South Pasadena is the only city in west San Gabriel Valley to allow such an arrangement.

However, after complaints from residents of the neighborhood, which is home to the Valley Hunt Club and some of the city's most expensive homes, the City Council is scheduled Wednesday to decide on the Butchers' project.

"It may have been a two-year dream for them, but it is going to be a nightmare for us," said Margaret Rice, a South Pasadena neighbor, whose appeal of the planning commission's OK of the project led to the scheduling of Wednesday's vote on the issue. "We don't want them to open a business in this neighborhood."

Rice claims 70 neighbors from South Pasadena and Pasadena support her view.

"This is a neighborhood of single-family residences and they knew that when they bought the property," she said of the Butchers.

Rice, who lives within 300 yards of the mansion, contends the Butchers did not tell all of their neighbors about their plans initially. She and other opponents also fear that the Butchers, or some future buyer of the house, could increase the number of people paying to stay there. Council approval of the plans, Rice said, could be the first step in shifting the neighborhood toward a business zoning.

"The bottom line is it will hurt the value of our homes and change the atmosphere of the neighborhood," she said.

Leonore Butcher, a nurse, said much of the opposition's fears stems from a lack of knowledge. For instance, she said, if they want to increase the number of guests in their home, they would have to get another permit. And any new owner would also have to get council approval for changing their plans.

The mansion--often referred to as the Bissell House because Anna Bissell McKay, daughter of the vacuum cleaner magnate, once lived there--would not be an "inn," Leonore Butcher said, but rather a family home with three rooms for overnight stays.

The Butchers have asked that a maximum of six paying guests be allowed to stay in three rooms on the third floor of the 5,600 square-foot house.

Leonore and Russell, a Temple City High School assistant principal, and their three sons would live on the second floor with the ground floor library, lounge and dining room being communal areas.

Leonore Butcher said that, since buying the house, they have refinished the hardwood floors, replaced the plumbing, installed air conditioning, landscaped the half-acre grounds and constructed a driveway to the house.

Having a few paying guests would add little to already heavy traffic on Orange Grove and neighbors would hardly notice the guests' activities, given that the house is surrounded by 40-foot-high trees, she said.

"Our immediate neighbors have thrown their support behind the three guest rooms," she said.

Planning Commissioners approved the project May 24, saying it complied with the law the council established in April regarding facilities and parking.

Rice appealed the decision June 8.

Mayor James C. Hodge Jr. said that, based on the information available, the Butcher's plans are an acceptable idea for a residential area.

"This is much less intrusive than a day-care center and a local dentist already runs a (dental) business near there," he said.

Hodge said many residents had mistakenly believed the city was rezoning the property when it is only issuing a user permit, and that not just any house can become a bed-and-breakfast.

"Your house has to be a cultural landmark. Every stucco house in South Pasadena can't become one," he said.

Bed-and-breakfasts have "wonderful side effects," because they provide just enough money for the upkeep of such historic houses, said Hodge, echoing what most council members said when implementing the law in April.

City Manager Kenneth C. Farfsing said city staff is very supportive of the Butchers' plans and will ask the council to approve the project on Wednesday.

"(Bed-and-breakfast) is a carrot, rather than a stick approach to encouraging historic preservation," he said.

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