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Hoteliers hope to help guests relax at B&B

The owners of the Crown Hotel want to give out-of-town guests wishing to relax in Citrus County another option: a bed-and-breakfast they hope to open on Gospel Island Road.

Nigel and Jill Sumner have their eye on a two-story fishing lodge that artists Gary and Kathwren Jenkins occupy off Lake Henderson.

"Inverness needs more upscale rooms," Crown owner Nigel Sumner said last week. "Not just more rooms, something different."

If they secure the necessary government approval, the Sumners hope to improve the county's bed-and-breakfast offerings, which are modest today and were nonexistent just three years ago.

Citrus has large, established inns such as the Crown and the Plantation Inn and Golf Resort. The county also is home to several chain motels and smaller lodgings that service both short-term tourists and seasonal guests.

Tourists who prefer the more homey atmosphere that B&Bs offer _ and which tourist havens such as St. Augustine and Amelia Island provide _ now have two choices: the Pine Breeze Inn in Beverly Hills, an eight-room property opened in 1994; and the Magnolia Glen, off Gospel Island Road, which began receiving guests one month ago.

Sumner said he has a contract to buy the Jenkinses' property at a price he declined to disclose. The Jenkinses, he said, are moving to Oregon this summer.

The Jenkinses, who did not return a reporter's telephone call, already take guests in from time to time for multiday art seminars.

The house, with nearly 8,000 square feet of living space, includes a kitchen, dining room, artists' suites and family room with a stone fireplace.

There are six or seven bedrooms, each with a private bath. Wood floors, high ceilings and a beautiful lakefront view finish off the package.

"I personally think it's ideal," Sumner said.

But not perfect.

Sumner wants to upgrade the property's boat house, put in a swimming pool and landscape. He would market the inn as a place where people could relax, enjoy the lake view and use the water and nearby Withlacoochee State Trail.

Sumner said tourists often arrive from Tampa Bay or Orlando to bicycle or hike. During the tourist season, he sometimes has no room for them at the Crown.

"We're sending people away," said Sumner, who has operated the Crown since September 1990. "If we want the tax money, keep (guests) in Citrus County."

Bonnie Kuntz, who operates the Magnolia Glen at 7702 E Allen Drive, just around the corner from where the Sumners would open their B&B, said there is a growing need for quality B&B's in Citrus County.

"I came from St. Petersburg, and I ran a bed-and-breakfast in St. Pete," she said. "And I want to tell you, the people in the Tampa Bay area are so uptight, they need a place where they can go and kick back. And this is a laid-back kind of place."

Kuntz offers three rooms for rent and serves guests a continental breakfast. She moved here in July and began taking guests in February.

"It's very well accepted," Kuntz said. "I'm looking for an elite clientele. I'm not just looking for the man on the street."

Before the Sumners can open their B&B, they and the Jenkinses must ask the county to change its land development code, which does not allow bed-and-breakfasts to operate on land zoned coastal and lakes.

The Gospel Island site bears that zoning; the Jenkinses have asked the county to allow B&Bs to operate on land zoned for rural residential and recreation.

The Jenkinses also want the county to tighten the definition of bed-and-breakfast, specifying that the owners must reside on the premises, that no more than five rooms be for rent, that breakfast be served to guests only, and that non-guest activity be limited to parties and gatherings, such as a wedding reception.

They further want the county to adopt specific development standards concerning a B&B's lot size, parking facilities, signs, traffic circulation, setback requirements and other technical matters.

Even if the county adopted those guidelines, B&B operators would not receive automatic approval, county senior planner Charles Dixon said during an interview last week. County staff still would have to evaluate any planned B&B to make sure it was consistent with surrounding development.

Kuntz said she was unaware of the Jenkinses' move to change the land development code.

Kuntz said she had not sought county government review before opening her B&B, but she thought she was on firm ground operating there because the state had issued her a business permit.

The Jenkinses' application will go before the Planning Development and Review Board on April 3. That board will review the plan and county staff's recommendation, which last week was in draft form but not yet official, Dixon said, and then recommend action to the County Commission.

The commission will hold a workshop and then a final hearing on the request.