No rooms for tourists

Inns: A growth industry elsewhere, bed-and-breakfasts are nearly nonexistent in Baltimore County.

May 02, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County is home to thousands of acres of rolling hills, dozens of historic mansions, hundreds of miles of scenic waterfront - and one bed-and-breakfast.

Though the number of such establishments nationwide has increased 15-fold in the past 20 years, and the industry is strong in Annapolis and on parts of the Eastern Shore, bed-and-breakfasts have failed to take hold in Baltimore County.

No one is sure why, but tourism officials, the operators of the sole inn and the Planning Department are working to loosen zoning restrictions that might be a factor.

County regulations allow for inns of up to 12 rooms but no more than 16 guests at any time. Given that the hallmark B&B experience is the romantic weekend getaway, allowing 1 1/3 people per room poses a serious problem.

"The bed-and-breakfast industry is such a new industry and is such an up-and-coming industry ... [that] people don't understand B&Bs. Counties are still learning about them," said Cristin E. Kline. She and her mother, Anne M. Pomykala, run Gramercy Mansion in Stevenson, the county's only bed-and-breakfast.

Kline and Pomykala have seven rooms, so the 16-person rule isn't a problem. But to comply with building codes, they have to put in handicapped-accessible facilities and add another staircase to the third floor. To help pay for the changes, they're also adding two guest rooms.

"We'd like to pay for the addition the fire marshal is requiring of us," Pomykala said. "If we can't rent it out on the weekends, what's the point?"

About nine months ago, Kline and Pomykala contacted their county councilman, T. Bryan McIntire, and he sponsored a resolution asking the Planning Department to study bed-and-breakfast regulations. The department is scheduled to report its findings this summer.

Proponents say that without more B&Bs, Baltimore County is losing out on an increasingly important part of the tourism trade.

Nationwide, the number of bed-and-breakfasts is increasing, along with occupancy and per-night room rates, said Pat Hardy, co-founder of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

The Internet has been a huge boost for the industry by making travelers more comfortable staying somewhere unfamiliar, said Denisa C. Protani, vice president of marketing and development for the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association.

"With the advent of the Internet, B&Bs and smaller inns have been put on the same playing field with the larger chains," she said. "It's given [travelers] more options. They can see pictures of places they've never been before and choose something that's not a major chain."

The industry also is a boon for historic preservation. Hardy estimated that inn owners across the county have spent more than $1 billion renovating historic properties.

Significant improvements were needed at Gramercy Mansion. Built by railroad baron Alexander J. Cassatt in 1902 as a gift to his daughter, it was cosmetically sound but functionally troubled when Pomykala bought it at auction in 1985. The roofs leaked, the heating system was nearly defunct and the septic systems were failing, Pomykala said.

"Nothing you could not restore with a little grease called money," she said.

The mansion today is spectacular. It sits on a 45-acre estate surrounded by ornate gardens and an organic farm. Inside it brims with antiques and shines with burnished wood.

Pomykala said bed-and-breakfasts allow "people ... to see the historic homes. It's not something that's just sitting off for the enjoyment of two people."

But revising zoning regulations could turn out to be more than a matter of increasing the maximum number of guests. The Professional Association of Innkeepers International in 1999 published a study of bed-and-breakfast zoning controls around the nation, showing that regulation is complex.

Bed-and-breakfasts come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from establishments with one or two rooms that are rented occasionally to full-fledged inns with dozens of rooms and restaurants open to the public. Although the report said that concerns about increased traffic and disturbances to neighborhoods are usually overblown, it acknowledged that safeguards are necessary.

Location matters, too. The impact of Gramercy Mansion with its 45 acres on the surrounding area is far different from that of an establishment such as Bauernschmidt Manor, an Essex inn that closed last year. It had only three bedrooms for visitors, but the front porch was about 10 yards from a neighbor's swimming pool.

Baltimore County regulations tie the size of the inn to the zone in which it is located. Limiting the number of guests, however, serves no purpose, Hardy said.

The 12-room, 16-person rule was adopted in 1988, though county officials don't know the logic behind it. At the time, the only bed-and-breakfast in the county was Twin Oaks Manor in Lutherville. It had eight rooms; figuring on two people per room, that could explain the 16-person occupancy limit, Kline said.

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