News

B&B plan divides neighbors

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

One of Enumclaw's finest and most visible homes became the center of a neighborhood controversy when prospective new owners suggested they be allowed to turn the residence into a bed-and-breakfast operation.

That proposal was the subject of nearly two hours of debate last week before the Enumclaw Planning Commission, which eventually granted the request of Galen and Teresa Schmidt.

The Schmidts are in the process of buying the historic Olson home - now owned by Dr. Kent and Joanne Decker - at 1513 Griffin Ave. The home, built in the early 1900s, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The home faces busy Griffin Avenue (state Route 164) but the rest of the neighborhood is a cozy combination of older homes, well-kept lawns and narrow streets. While some neighbors supported the Schmidt's request, many others feared the shift away from a single-family home would add noise and traffic to their tranquil neighborhood. The Planning Commission's vote apparently hoped to satisfy both sides; while the request to use three rooms for bed-and-breakfast purposes was authorized, commission members were clear that the home should not be used for special events, such as wedding receptions.

Prior to taking public comments, the five members of the Planning Commission heard from Les Johnson, the city's director of community development. Johnson said the Schmidt's "conditional use" request was appropriate for several reasons: there is just one other bed-and-breakfast operation in Enumclaw, so a need exists; traffic impacts should be minimal; noise should be no greater than if a large family moved in; and parking needs are not incompatible with the surrounding area. The recommendation from city staff was that the commission approve the request.

Teresa Schmidt said she understands why neighbors might have qualms, since the couple is fairly new to the community. "We immediately fell in love with the home," she said. "We have absolutely no intention of doing anything that would harm the community in any way."

Joanne Decker said she and her husband have lived in the home for more than 26 years and raised eight children there, but it's time for a change. Allowing the large house to function as a bed-and-breakfast, she said, would be good for the city, providing a private, quiet place for the tourists the city covets.

Once the public testimony began - with those in support getting the first opportunity to speak - neighbor Dan Farr suggested allowing a B&B offers "the best chance of keeping the beautiful, historic residence" in its current condition. In his experience, bed-and-breakfasts are always "the best-kept house in the neighborhood," he said. Linda Farr noted there simply isn't a market for huge single-family homes these days, and expressed a concern that the Decker's house could be divided into apartments if not allowed to go the B&B route.

Nine neighbors spoke against the proposal, most voicing their worry that a business enterprise would disrupt the lifestyle of their neighborhood. Longtime resident Una Waldron said allowing the Schmidt's request would be "the equivalent of pulling the cork from the dyke." She cited a previous study that said business operations should not be allowed to extend west of Porter Street.

When it came time to vote, commission members were certain to address neighborhood fears that the home might be used for more than just a bed-and-breakfast. The motion, offered by Kirk Parce, included the line, "any special events and/or activities shall not be conducted on the premises."

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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