By Debby Woodin
Neighborhood opposition once again shot down a permit request to operate a bed and breakfast at the site of the 1933 Bonnie and Clyde shootout.
While business people spoke in favor of the Rev. Phillip McClendon’s effort to turn the garage apartment at 3347 1/2 Oak Ridge Drive into a pay-for-stay accommodation, most of those who live in the area testified against a permit.
McClendon had sought a special-use permit from the city, required to operate a bed and breakfast at the two-bedroom apartment where the infamous Barrow gang holed up for 12 days before shooting its way out and killing two lawmen in the fray.
McClendon said he has stocked the apartment with books, copies of a BBC documentary shown on the History Channel, movies and law enforcement reports regarding the notorious guests and their departing shootout.
The apartment has recently been designated a state and national historic site and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
McClendon’s supporters on the effort included Allen Shirley, a Joplin man who is vice chairman of the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; Doris Carlin a Joplin real estate agent who assisted the city in adopting historic preservation ordinances and establishing a local commission; and others, including a next-door neighbor.
Shirley told the council that state and federal authorities spent about two years verifying and researching before granting historic status to the property. “It would seem to me rather wasteful to now let it sit and be underutilized.”
He said there already is a bed and breakfast in the neighborhood, four blocks from the McClendon property. He said it is the same type of construction with the same parking, but did not generate opposition from the neighborhood.
Scott Hutson, an owner of Cycle Connection Harley-Davidson Buell, located south of the neighborhood, said Joplin is known worldwide as a historic Bonnie and Clyde site. He often is asked about the site or for directions to it by customers visiting his shop.
“It’s just as important (to Joplin) as Route 66,” he said. “It’s a story that’s traveled worldwide. Our city will always be linked, whether we try to ignore it or not, to Bonnie and Clyde.”
Carlin said that sustainable tourism helps to underpin local economies and that people are drawn to the places where they can tell nostalgic stories. “It’s all about our stories. Bonnie and Clyde is a story that brings people to our city.”
Carter Lee, who lives next door to the site, spoke in favor of the permit, saying he does not condone the violence Bonnie and Clyde’s story represents. “But it is history. There is historic significance, and that’s what should be respected.”
But, other neighbors did not agree.
Virgil McCoy, 3416 Oak Ridge Drive, said the tight-knit neighborhood is troubled by the looks of some of the people who are drawn to the Bonnie and Clyde apartment. He said that while the other bed and breakfast in the neighborhood is owner-occupied, McClendon’s property has no on-site supervision.
While McClendon’s supporters described tourists who stay in bed and breakfasts as mostly college-educated, middle-class people, McCoy said, “We see that group of people who drive up and ask (where the Bonnie and Clyde house) is. I’m sorry. They’re not all driving Porsches and BMWs.”
McCoy contended that McClendon also had not followed city regulations since he was denied a permit earlier. Residents defeated a similar proposal by voicing opposition to the City Council about four years ago.
“For three and a half years he has offended the law and slapped the City Council in the face,” by renting out the apartment without having the required permit, McCoy contended.
McClendon, when questioned by council members, acknowledged having charged some overnight guests, saying he let family and others stay there free but did collect $1,400 last year from other guests.
He said he followed city staff directions by taking down a Web site that advertised the apartment and quit renting it for overnight stays about six months ago after being cautioned by the city’s zoning staff.
Four other neighbors testified against the proposal, including two young women who said they were concerned about strangers being around the neighborhood children. There were 12 neighbors in opposition while all of McClendon’s supporters but one do not live in the neighborhood.
Some also indicated that McClendon was not cooperative with the neighbors in addressing concerns.
After the public hearing, council member Benjamin Rosenberg made a motion to deny the permit, seconded by Melodee Colbert-Kean. The council voted 7-2 to deny the permit. Council members Michael Seibert and Mayor Gary Shaw cast the two ‘no’ votes.
The Joplin City Council approved a $4.48 million contract to build a railroad bridge over Connecticut Avenue near 26th Street to replace a grade crossing there. Engineers told the council work should start on the project within two weeks.
By Debby Woodin
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