CITY HALL — The city’s final remaining beach-facing cottage — the adopted cause of passionate historic preservationists who fought off demolition two years ago — will soon be reincarnated into a bed and breakfast, at least when the owners aren’t living there.
The Planning Commission on Wednesday approved a conditional use permit for a bed and breakfast at the old historic yellow cottage at 2219 Ocean Ave., attaching a series of stipulations including limiting the days of business operation to no more than 182 in a calendar year and requiring a manager to check in on guests two hours in the morning and a pair in the afternoon.
The property owners — John and Donna Heidt — must also return after one year for a review of the permit to see if any complaints have come in from neighbors, leaving the revocation option open.
The permit was narrowly approved 4-3 following a back-and-forth give-and-take between commissioners over a series of issues that have been raised by neighbors in recent months, including whether the property owner should be required to hire a full-time manager to live at the property, and addressing concerns over the lack of guest supervision.
The owners of a property management company in Santa Monica, the Heidts began receiving inquiries about short-term stay at the more than century-old cottage after they began rehabilitation last year on the home, which was then in precarious condition, sitting atop a sloping foundation, its exterior covered in chipped yellow paint.
But following visits by family and friends last winter, the questions about rentals began pouring in.
“Since we occupy the house two weeks out of the month on average, we felt we can share the cottage with people who are interested,” John Heidt, who maintains his primary residence in Westwood, said.
They began renting the cottage on short-term stay until they were informed earlier this year by City Hall’s code compliance division that such a use was not permitted. The couple then filed for a permit to operate a bed and breakfast — an allowable use in the zoning district — but with the intention of renting the entire house and not individual rooms.
The municipal code defines a bed and breakfast as a building or a portion thereof which is used as temporary lodging for individuals for less than 30 consecutive days. The facility must have more than four guest rooms and one kitchen. The cottage currently has four guest rooms but two kitchens, one of which will be removed.
Such a use would allow the couple to share the historic cottage while keeping it for themselves part of the year, Heidt said.
“We believe the bed and breakfast use, while only occasional, will contribute to city programs through the transient occupancy tax and will in some small measure contribute to the awareness of and support for our local business community,” Heidt said. “We are proud of our landmark building and feel that by sharing the experience we will contribute to an appreciation of historic buildings and neighborhood appreciation.”
While a city staff report states that the property owners are in part pursuing the project to assist in paying for the improvements to the cottage, Heidt said that finances is not really a factor.
The bed and breakfast proposal has drawn concerns from neighbors who said they received an unwelcome preview during the period in which the couple previously rented the cottage without the permit, complaining about noise and the lack of supervision on site. Some also raised concerns about the impacts to an already sensitive parking situation on the street.
“You have people who live and work there and are on different schedules than people who are renting and on vacation,” Deborah Laper, a neighbor, said during the commission meeting. “I don’t know about you, but I certainly act a little bit differently on vacation than I do in my daily life.
“I’ve been on the receiving end during the illegal renting period of time to kind of a dress rehearsal of what this looks like and I don’t like it.”
The proposal did come with supporters, including known figures from the historic preservationist community.
“It seems to me the condition the Heidts have agreed to in the CUP seems more than adequate to provide neighborhood friendly operation of the property,” Carol Lemlein, the president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, said. “One wonders how many of us who own our own homes would accept the same conditions on our own use of our property.”
The lack of an onsite manager drew the most concerns from commissioners Jay Johnson, Jason Parry and Gerda Paumgarten Newbold, who said they wanted to see a supervisor at the cottage 24 hours a day. Chair Hank Koning and commissioner Gwynne Pugh said they felt the onsite manager was not necessary, pointing out the awkwardness of having a stranger staying with guests on such a small piece of property. Koning suggested placing a surveillance camera on the house to address some of the concerns.
“I think that’s overbearing and I think it’s impractical and if I were a family renting this I wouldn’t want somebody there,” Pugh said.
Johnson said he doesn’t like the idea of placing commercial uses in residential neighborhoods and feared that approving the permit would set a bad precedent.
“How are we going to prevent that from spreading (in the city) if we approve this,” he said.