Bed and breakfast boom raises concerns

Nathan Thompson
Pawhuska City Council members gather prior to the Aug. 1 meeting at City Hall. Nathan Thompson/Journal-Capital

Concerns about zoning and the recent uptick in interest of Pawhuska residents to rent out their homes as a beds and breakfasts caused the Planning and Zoning Commission administrator Bill Todd to address the Pawhuska City Council Aug. 1 with a possible solution.

The City Council met for its regular monthly meeting at Pawhuska City Hall, 118 W. Main Street.

Todd approached the Council with a proposal to allow some beds and breakfasts to conduct business in a residential area without changing the zoning to commercial.

“With the opening of the Mercantile, the city is starting to flourish,” Todd said. “When that happens, everybody is wanting to get in and take advantage of making business out of their homes. We’re having a lot of people not being aware of meeting zoning requirements and zoning usage that we have in the city.”

Many of the bed and breakfast businesses are showing up on websites such AirBnB without the appropriate zoning, causing concerns for safety, and crowded residential streets with cars parked all along the sides, he said.

Todd said there is an issue with the zoning procedures in Pawhuska, where there is not a specific provision for home-based businesses like beds and breakfasts. The city’s zoning procedure was last updated in the 1970s, when thoughts of home-based bed and breakfast businesses were not considered.

“At the time, the only thing we could find was (zoning for) a motel, and in our definition of ordinances, a motel can be one or more buildings renting out one or more rooms,” Todd said. “That type of zoning is not appropriate for residential areas.”

Todd said the only thing the Planning and Zoning Commission can find to remedy the situation is to make a zoning text amendment or a zoning map amendment, which may not be appropriate in most cases.

However, Todd said Oklahoma law would allow the City Council to authorize the Board of Adjustments to make exceptions for specific uses in each category when it is appropriate and in harmony with the use. The exceptions would require public hearings, a process they could take too much time for some.

“We’re still talking about if a person came in to town and wanted to open a bed and bath, they come to the city wanting to do this — First, we’d have to get the City Council to approve if they can do a special use and then the council would have to spell out what that special use is and the requirements for that special use,” Todd said. “Once (the City Council) do that, they still have to come and have a public meeting and go through all the notifications. We’re talking about sometime in upwards of 60 days before they can get the project going.”

Another solution that is more time-sensitive would be if the City Council would authorize an interpretation of a zoning code. That interpretation from the business owner could then be presented to the Planning Commission.

“If the Planning Commission were to accept (the interpretation), then it is made part of the ordinance and record,” Todd said. “It’s really a gray area because you don’t want the (Planning Commission) overstepping their bounds.”

After discussion on the Pawhuska City Council, no action was taken on the discussion, however Pawhuska City Attorney John Heskitt said he will look at the legal framework of the proposal and provide a recommendation to the City Council at a future meeting.