Proposed Airbnb at Mellencamp homeplace moves to BZA

John Mellencamp was born in a small town, and he lived in a small town.

That was in a home at 714 W. Fifth St. in Seymour.

Kevin Burke, who said he has owned the house since 1979 and has had it as a rental for 40 years, recently announced his plans to turn the homeplace of the Seymour native and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer into an Airbnb.

According to, Airbnb began in 2008 when two designers who had space to share hosted three travelers looking for a place to stay. Now, millions of hosts and guests have created free Airbnb accounts to enjoy each other’s unique view of the world.

From cozy cottages to elegant penthouses, hosts are happy to share their places. Whether it’s a work trip, a weekend getaway, a family vacation or a longer stay, there are millions of places to visit, the website states.

Burke wants the Mellencamp homeplace to be included on the website.

First, though, he needs a land use variance to be approved. The first step in that process was sharing his plans with the Seymour Plan Commission.

During a meeting Thursday, that board voted 9-1 and passed it on to the Seymour Board of Zoning Appeals with a favorable recommendation. The BZA will have the final say during its meeting at 7 p.m. March 28 in the council chambers at city hall.

Bernie Hauersperger cast the lone nay vote, and Gary Colglazier was absent.

“The house is unique,” Burke told the plan commission. “The fact that John Mellencamp was born there makes it unique in a sense that there’s no other house in Seymour, no other house in the world that can make that claim.”

He then shared how this would bring people to Seymour.

“Because of the uniqueness, the city of Seymour, the Jackson County Visitor Center all stand to gain if this was an Airbnb for the fact that this would be a tourist attraction,” Burke said. “Being an Airbnb, it’s got your 5% innkeepers tax that every dollar comes in goes to Jackson County, so I think this will be attractive in that respect.”

When commission President Jeri Wells asked if anyone was at the meeting to speak in favor of or against the request, Seymour resident Tyler Henkle asked Burke if the residence is currently occupied and if he has discussed his plans with the tenants. Burke said the tenants have been there less than a year, and he shared his plans of converting it to an Airbnb ahead of time.

Henkle said if the city approves the land use variance, does that set a precedent for anyone who would decide to turn their homeplace into an Airbnb? Burke said they would have an opportunity like he does to present their case.

Wells then asked for questions from the commission. Rick Schleibaum asked Burke how many people he would restrict at one time, and Burke said since it’s 1,100 square feet with two bedrooms, he would imagine no more than four people. He, however, said the basement needs fixed up and he could turn that back into two more bedrooms.

Jeremy Gray, the city’s building commissioner, said if that work is done, Burke will need to apply for a building permit.

“If this were to go through, my goal would be eventually to get that room like it was,” Burke said.

“My concern would be the number of people and becoming a party house and the number of cars parked out front,” Schleibaum said. “I would like to maybe hear some of your conditions that you would rent it and put that as a condition of our approval.”

Burke said he would have people agree to a contract ahead of time that sets the rules for the Airbnb, and he could include that parties are not allowed and that a certain number of people are allowed in the home at a time.

As far as parking, he said three cars can park behind the house and three more can park in the driveway, and they can go out the back of the property to an alley. Plus, there are a couple of on-street parking spots out front.

Commission member Dan Robison said while he likes this idea, he isn’t sure about this type of business operation being near an elementary school.

Burke said he plans to make some upgrades, including finishing the driveway and possibly some work to improve accessibility.

“I don’t see that as a concern because what’s really going to change with that house if this happens?” Burke said.

“The house is going to get a little bit of a boost in terms of appearance and upgrade, and so from that aspect, that seems to be a plus in the area of a school,” he said. “The property value will come up. Other than that, it’s rented now, and it would be rented then, people would be coming and going and it will be, in my mind, people who have the means to pay upfront, will sign a contract.”

Commission member Bret Cunningham asked if the plan commission can push for a contract. City attorney Christina Engleking said the board can place stipulations on the granting of the variance.

Commission member Dave Eggers said while the board doesn’t need to be “squelchers of free enterprise,” one of his concerns would be recreational vehicles parking outside the home, and Burke said he would direct those people to the new RV park being built in Seymour.

“I don’t necessarily think government should be involved in individuals’ ability to contract, but our safeguards built into our city code would limit noise levels, restrict vehicles and what vehicles can be parked where,” Engleking said. “If that kind of eases some of your concerns regarding those issues, the city does have recourse should ordinance violations occur at this property.”

Since he also serves on the Seymour City Council, Cunningham said he planned to suggest an ordinance be established for Airbnbs since they are growing in popularity. That way, the council could decide how to handle some of the stipulations, and then a person may not have to come before the plan commission to present his or her case.