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Chapel Hill is reconsidering restrictions on bed-and-breakfasts 

King's Daughters Inn in Durham

File photo by Jeremy M. Lange

King's Daughters Inn in Durham

When the King's Daughters Inn shuttered its doors in Durham in 2006, the 82-year-old structure was failing. Once offering dormitory housing to women on the edges of Duke University, the structure had declined over the years. Only a handful of women were living inside the building, then a retirement facility, when it closed.

Three years later, the inn reopened as a luxurious bed-and-breakfast after co-owner Deanna Crossman and her husband, Colin, battled to prove to neighbors on Buchanan Boulevard and city officials that the surging B&B industry was all boon and no bane for upper-crust, historic neighborhoods skirting a major university.

They prevailed, thanks to statistics Crossman produced tracking a rise in property values surrounding B&Bs nationwide. The King's Daughters Inn is a success today.

Crossman says an industry that grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s is undergoing a renaissance as deep-pocketed retirees and travelers search for lodging with a personal touch.

"A lot of people these days, especially the younger generation, are looking for a more unique location, not just three- or four-star hotels," Crossman said. "There's been a huge boom all across the country."

Drive about 10 miles southwest to Chapel Hill and none of this is possible, at least for now. But a change is brewing in this college town, which has maintained stringent ordinances that make B&Bs nearly impossible to operate.

"It is time—we are ready for bed-and-breakfasts," says Aaron Nelson, chairman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

A recently passed comprehensive plan known as Chapel Hill 2020 includes calls to allow B&Bs, part of a push to speed upscale tourist attractions in the historic neighborhoods padding UNC-Chapel Hill.

This comes two years after the latest of several petitions to clear B&B handicaps was forwarded to town officials. Nelson predicts B&Bs could be one of the first items on the docket when the Chapel Hill Town Council reconvenes in September after its annual summer break.

Town ordinances currently allow for a very limited form of B&B in residential districts, the areas where homespun B&Bs are most likely to be found, said Chapel Hill Planning Director J.B. Culpepper.

However, Culpepper said town rules require the B&B operator to live on-site, and—most important—limit the lodging space to just 750 square feet of the home. Based on those regulations, a Chapel Hill B&B would max out at about two rooms.

Compare that to the 17-room King's Daughters Inn, where Durham regulations allow the Crossmans to use roughly 8,000 square feet of guest room space. Add the dining room and King's Daughters is nearly 20,000 square feet.

Crossman acknowledged that King's Daughters has its own restrictions in Durham. As in Chapel Hill, the operator must live on-site. Also, dining is limited to breakfast served solely to King's Daughters guests. Nevertheless, King's Daughters is thriving and it has the support of its neighbors, Crossman says.

Chapel Hill Councilman Lee Storrow thinks the town should look west for B&B inspiration. A former Asheville resident, he says Chapel Hill can learn from the town, which is home to UNC-Asheville.

A Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce trip to Asheville in 2010 yielded a clear message, Storrow said. "It started showing (B&Bs) can be a really vibrant part of our community and provide an alternative to hotels," he said.

Storrow said he's not aggressively pushing change, indicating he'd rather the revisions come "organically" as leaders phase in tenets of Chapel Hill 2020 in the future. Still, he said the town could soon begin discussions on the subject.

"I think it's time to have the conversation," Storrow said. "I think it's a conversation we probably should have had two years ago."

Chapel Hill Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison has no problem with B&Bs, although he noted the town's past reluctance to extend commercial activity into Chapel Hill's residential areas.

Harrison said pressure for the change has come from residents of historic neighborhoods such as those dotting McCauley Street and Cameron Avenue just west of campus.

"I think that people who live there consider it better compared to making money from having students rent the houses," Harrison said.

Anna Washington, a McCauley Street resident who signed a B&B petition directed at town leaders in 2010, said she rents out one room in her home, although she has considered operating a B&B.

The popular establishments would attract something new to these Chapel Hill neighborhoods, Washington said, rather than the usual student renters. "It would draw tourists, it would draw international visitors," she said. "It would be a good fit."

In the past, resistance to B&Bs has come from residents in the town's historic boroughs who worry over the impact on property values, crime and traffic. Real estate trends in B&B-backed college towns such as Madison, Wis., and Ann Arbor, Mich., show property values surrounding the establishments are increasing, Nelson said. He added that B&Bs ultimately deliver well-kept, safe lodging that cashes in on retired travelers and tourists. "Bed-and-breakfasts will be good for Chapel Hill," Nelson said.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Waking up to B&Bs."

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