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Bed-and-breakfast inns may get Petaluma welcome

  • Michael Lerner may have the first B and B in Petaluma. He is working on getting the zoning codes changed for his Galland Street house. December 9, 2011.

With its stately Victorians, historic downtown, and bucolic hills, Petaluma may seem an ideal place for a bed-and-breakfast getaway.

But when potential visitors call for details on B&Bs, they get an unexpected response —- the southern gateway to Wine Country doesn't have a single one.

"The person who travels and stays in bed-and-breakfasts is really surprised," said Onita Pellegrini, CEO of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce. "They then say &‘Where is the nearest bed-and-breakfast inn?'"

Visitors aren't the only ones taken aback. David Scott, general manager of the Sheraton hotel in Petaluma and president of the Sonoma County Lodging Association, said he too was perplexed by their absence when he arrived in 2008.

It's a situation that may be changing. Earlier this week, the city council gave preliminary approval to a series of changes aimed at fostering economic development — including by relaxing rules governing where B&B's may locate.

Currently, such inns are allowed only in mixed-use areas, which are primarily in the downtown core and along Petaluma Boulevard, not in the historic neighborhoods where many feel bed-and-breakfasts would work best.

Change is not just a matter of drawing visitors to Petaluma, city staff say. B&B's could also help people preserve expensive old homes in an era of eroded property values.

Clark Rosen, a longtime real estate broker in Petaluma, welcomes the proposal. For decades, he and his wife have been fans of B&B's, enjoying them as windows into communities unlike the institutional feel of many hotels.

"There is just a bit more romance in that kind of inn that you don't find in a hotel," he said.

More practically, though, he said B&B's could help Petaluma cash in on its rising cachet, which he said has been building for the past decade or so.

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