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B&B concerns in St. Joe as summer nears

St. Joe, MI has long been known as “A Special Place on the Lake,” but tensions are rising in the tourist town as residents battle over where to allow new bed and breakfast businesses to be built.

“You’re not here to have a party, which most short-term rentals are families or big groups; here we have two people and they’re here for a quiet weekend,” Christine Shull said.

Shull has owned The Painted Turtle Inn in St. Joe for the last three years.

She said her bed and breakfast is packed in the summer, but visitors never disrupt her neighbors.

“They’re here to see what’s going on in the area and to do things,” Shull said.

But some in the small lake city are afraid a growing tourism industry is taking over.

“I would like to keep it that way and not introduce commercial properties into the area,” St. Joe resident Jinx Heaton said. “It’s a residential area and I’d like to preserve the history of it and the ambiance of the historic district.”

Jinx and her husband, Rick, are not alone in feeling this way.

Two city commissioners want to restrict where new B&Bs can be built in town, recommending they stay in areas close to the water, where there are multi-family homes and summer rentals, rather than neighborhoods where residents live year-round in single-family homes.

“I wholeheartedly support that,” Rick said. “I mean, there are places for B&Bs; we already have two. My feeling is, we’re certainly not trying to prohibit B&Bs generally in the community, just not in single-family residential areas.”

But Shull said the single-family areas are prime locations because the city requires B&B owners to live in the home they work out of and to have parking available for each guest that is off the street.

“It would be very difficult for someone to find a house that would be acceptable to make into a B&B in those very limited, restricted areas,” Shull said.

She also said B&Bs play a big role in the local economy because owners don’t get any tax exemptions, their properties are well-kept to improve curb appeal and guests flood into downtown to shop and dine.

“We only serve breakfast here, so people are going out to dinner,” Shull said. “They’re not allowed to use our kitchen or our cooking facilities, so they can’t bring their own food and cook their own food here.”

She added, “B&Bs are about embodying the benefits of the community and showing it off to tourists, as opposed to trying to get people in just for income.”

The Heatons said they recognize how B&Bs contribute to the local economy, but they also want to make sure that residents who live in St. Joe year-round have a say in what happens to their community.

“We’re trying to help the whole entire area, not just ourselves,” Shull said.

A new B&B is being built in the heart of the historic district on State Street. It has support from some neighbors, while others are unhappy. 

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