The Pawhuska Planning and Zoning Commission sought public comment April 10 about potential measures to regulate the growing bed-and-bath business, and business owners sent the commission a clear signal that heavy-handed government intrusion is not welcome.
Osage County tourism director Kelly Bland added to the caution signal that business owners sent by noting that Pawhuska is in the top 10 among Oklahoma cities in Airbnb receipts.
More than 30 people attended the hearing the morning of April 10 in the city council chambers, and numerous investors in the growth of the bed-and-bath community offered their responses to a printed list of potential regulations. The only idea to which owners and managers of bed-and-baths had a generally positive reaction was the notion of registering/licensing the businesses to protect the market against unscrupulous operators.
Some members of the commission — notably Stuart Tolson and Cody Garnett — sent signals that they favor an absolute minimum of city regulation of bed-and-baths. Tolson said he had not been involved in formulating previous regulatory proposals that were turned down by the Pawhuska City Council.
The commission made no decisions during the hearing and is expected to take up the bed-and-bath issue again at its May meeting.
Cheryl Potts, who runs the Million Dollar Inn on Grandview, criticized the idea of limiting customer stays at bed-and-baths to 30 days. She recalled that one of her business customers stayed for four months.
“I don’t understand the 30-day limit,” she said. Other bed-and-bath owners challenged that idea, as well. Potts went on to challenge a proposal to mandate a guest register for each bed-and-bath. She said that she talked with customers — a group of women from Edmond — about how they would react to being asked to sign a register at a bed-and-bath.
“And they looked at me like I had lost my mind,” Potts said. She urged the commissioners not to do anything to harm a growing sector of the city’s economy.
“First and foremost, we don’t want those people going to Bartlesville to spend the night,” Potts said. “We don’t want to lose those guests to our town.”
Kathryn Chambers, owner/operator of a bed-and-bath on Main Street, warned the commissioners about misunderstanding the demographic makeup of the target market for operations like hers. Chambers, who has an academic background in marketing, said some 90 percent of her customers are people who come to Pawhuska because of The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. They expect and receive a high level of service and do not cause problems, she said.
“If a toilet backs up, you better believe I’m in there plunging it for them,” Chambers said, emphasizing the considerable effort she makes to keep her establishment clean and inviting. She characterized the regulatory ideas before the commission as “government overreach.”
There was also discussion in the April 10 hearing of potential investments in Pawhuska that could be nixed if the Planning and Zoning Commission is too eager to regulate bed-and-baths.
Cathy Jordan explained her family members have an interest in investing in Pawhuska as a way of returning to their roots, but have been advised to hold up until city government decides how it wishes to proceed on this regulatory question.
“We really should be a team moving things forward,” Jordan said.
Pawhuska businessman Bruce Malone said he and his wife have not yet opened a bed-and-bath in Pawhuska but they hope to do so. The commission’s approach will affect their decision, he said.
Downtown businessman Scott Trotter said he thinks Pawhuska really “dodged a bullet” when the City Council recently declined to approve proposed regulations for bed-and-bath operations and encouraged the Planning and Zoning Commission to seek further public comment.
Bill Todd, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, on March 12 presented some proposed regulations for bed-and-baths to the City Council, bult the council took no action. Former Ward 2 Councilor Steve Holcombe stressed he thought more public comment was in order.