Mellencamp Airbnb approved by BZA

(Editor’s Note): This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. to correct inaccurate information about John Mellencamp’s homeplace.

The Seymour Board of Zoning Appeals received public comments regarding a few petitions Tuesday night in the council chambers at Seymour City Hall before approving five petitions and denying two.

BZA members approved petitioner Kevin Burke’s land use variance, voting 4-1, to turn his house on 714 W. Fifth St. that was the homeplace of John Mellencamp into an Airbnb rental. The nay vote came from BZA member Jack Swindell.

The petition was given a favorable recommendation from the Seymour Plan Commission on March 9 on a 9-1 vote.

Burke said during the BZA meeting that while he does not see this as a destination place, he believes it will attract those who are in the area to attend other events. Also, with an Airbnb, it will include a 5% innkeeper’s tax that every dollar that comes in goes to the county, he said.

“When people come to the Oktoberfest, the Watermelon Festival or Fort Vallonia Days, which are some of the biggest draws in the county, they could say, ‘Well, while we are there, we can stay at John Mellencamp’s birthplace,’” Burke said. “I think it would also be a good attraction to the county for people that plan to go to events outside of the county, like the Indy 500 or the Kentucky Derby.”

BZA President Rob Kaufman asked Burke how many people he would restrict at one time and how long renters would stay at the residence. Burke said he would imagine no more than four people in the 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom home, and under a contract with Airbnb, the stay could be between four days and two weeks at the most.

Burke also said the basement where Mellencamp and his brother stayed is currently being remodeled and could be turned into two bedrooms at some point if need be.

The BZA then asked the audience for comments in favor or opposition of the proposal. While no one spoke in favor of the petition, three audience members spoke in opposition.

Bailey Hughes, who lives near the property, said she is concerned about who would be allowed to rent the Airbnb, saying there is no way to tell who could rent out the property.

“If the renter is a registered sex offender, they have to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school. This home is 300 feet,” she said.

Hughes said there are 327 children who attend Emerson Elementary School, which is around the corner on Emerson Drive.

“The town may receive a small tax from this, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk involved,” she said.

James Clay, who lives next to the house, said he also is concerned about the type of people who could rent the property.

“If I have a neighbor that lives there, I know that neighbor. I can know whether to avoid them or know if it’s OK to let my kids outside,” Clay said. “If I have random renters coming in and out, I don’t know if it’s safe to let my kids outside.”

Seymour resident Tyler Henkle also is concerned about the type of renters who could use the property and said this could take away from the housing shortage in the county.

Burke addressed the concerns of the neighbors, saying he will screen all applications that come through the rental process. He said he will be able to check host reviews to monitor possible renters and monitor the house, as well.

“If there is ever an issue, please call me first and I will be there immediately to resolve the problem,” Burke said to the audience members.

New BZA member Skylar Earley, who took the place of Jason Kleber, asked Burke if the current renters of the home were aware of his petition and asked the price he would charge to stay on the property.

Burke said the renters are aware of what was going to happen, and the price he estimates for renting the property would be between $150 and $200 a day.

BZA member Dave Eggers said he appreciated the neighbors’ concerns but does not want to stand in the way of free enterprise.

Karen Munson made a motion to approve Burke’s petition with Kaufman seconding the motion.

Another petition approved during the meeting included Gordon and Kathy Simler’s request for a land use variance in order to obtain a kennel license to keep their 22 cats and four dogs at their home on 436 Persimmon Dr.

The petition was given a favorable recommendation from the plan commission on March 9 with the stipulation that no more animals would be brought into the house.

Kaufman asked if the home had a fenced-in backyard and was told yes by the petitioners.

Henkle asked the board to consider the votes not on what neighbors want or the concerns they have but vote fairly on the matter because it is the right thing to do.

Kaufman made a motion to approve with Munson seconding, and the motion passed with a 4-1 vote with a nay vote from Eggers.

Passing on 5-0 votes were Clayton Henderson’s petition for a land use variance to open a small car detailing business out of his garage at 207 N. Fourth Street Road, Ben Stewart’s request for a setback variance to build a pool house at his home on 221 Manor Court and Ken Anders’ request for a setback variance to build a garage at 248 Whites Station Road.

The two petitions that were denied involved Jigar Patel, who requested a land use variance to turn an existing building at 207 E. 13th St. into an apartment with a 5-0 vote denying the request, and Chrisley Lewis and Rachel McIntosh requesting a setback variance to keep a large shed on their property at 1407 Martin Court. With Lewis and McIntosh not showing up for their requests and two audience members who opposed to it, a vote was taken denying the request 5-0.