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Popular Airbnb in Dorchester shut down temporarily

Dorchester jail owner Bill Steele is working to update his fire plan for his building to be allowed to accommodate overnight guests.
Dorchester jail owner Bill Steele is working to update his fire plan for his building to be allowed to accommodate overnight guests. - Contributed

Regular tours have resumed but owner of historic jail working to update building to allow for overnight guests

DORCHESTER, N.B. —

Bill Steele is trying to remain upbeat.

But frustration has been setting in more often than not lately as the owner of the Dorchester jail works to get his popular Airbnb up and running again.

Bill Steele has upgraded the exit signs throughout the jail.
Bill Steele has upgraded the exit signs throughout the jail.

“It’s frustrating,” said Steele. “We are missing the best part of the peak season.”

Steele’s business was shut down by the fire marshal’s office last month and the Dorchester resident was told he would need to get his building up to National Building Code and Fire Code standards before he would be able to reopen.

Steele said several of those requirements have so far been met but he continues to put everything he can into trying to check off the rest of the list. But it’s an expenditure he didn’t plan for and his health conditions – he recently suffered a heart attack – have been slowing him down.

Thankfully, Steele has been able to resume tours at the jailhouse, with several stipulations in place including a limit to the number of visitors allowed in the building at one time and a guide required to have keys to the building in their possession during the tours.

“They did a preliminary inspection and it was only a couple days before the tours were back up and running,” he said. “So at least that gives us a bit of revenue.”

But Steele has had to cancel dozens of reservations to his Airbnb since receiving the visit from the fire marshal’s office and has had to put any plans for further overnight guests on hold for the time being.

Sleeping accommodations require the approval of a fire plan, said Steele, and this has required a number of updates and upgrades to the building – including new exit signs, deactivation of the cell door locks, emergency lighting and alarm system upgrade, and several new fire extinguishers.

“I’m just working away at it as much as I can.”

Steele said he’s been appreciative of the willingness of the fire marshal’s office to work with him on these issues over the past few weeks.

“They’ve been really friendly and they’ve gone way above and beyond to try to help me out.”

Steele hopes to be able to reopen his doors within the next week or two and said he has a long list of people to call once he has the Airbnb running again. He said his accommodations are highly rated and he hopes not to lose out on the entire 2019 summer season.

Steele, a retired city worker from Toronto, bought and moved into the historic prison in the centre of the village in the spring of 2017.

Then he went on to open the prison up as an Airbnb, offering guests an opportunity to spend the night in a cell. The unique lodging has attracted hundreds of visitors from all over the world.

The two-storey brick building was built in the early 1800s. It was the site of New Brunswick's last double hanging in 1936.

MEANWHILE . . .

Farm animals or emotional support animals? Courts will decide

The jail’s closure is not the only issue Steele is facing this summer when it comes to his Dorchester business.

His legal dispute with the village over his backyard goats is ongoing and Steele is awaiting a court date coming up later this month. The original court date was set for May but was initially delayed.

These three goats are at the centre of a legal dispute between Bill Steele and the village of Dorchester. The case heads to court later this month.
These three goats are at the centre of a legal dispute between Bill Steele and the village of Dorchester. The case heads to court later this month.

The village ordered Steele to remove his goats from his property last summer, then pursued legal action against him after he refused to give up what he refers to as his pets. The village argues Steele is in violation of the village’s zoning bylaw as the goats are not permitted on the jail property because it is not an agricultural operation.

Steele said the village has essentially ignored his note from his physician, which provides him an argument about having the goats in his care as emotional support animals. He said he has a Human Rights complaint against the village for refusing mediation in this case and not acknowledging his disability.

Steele said he suffers from severe depression, which has worsened since the death of his son several years ago. The goats have helped him through the hard times and he pointed out that he and his son had always talked about raising goats following his retirement.

“The grief follows me to this day . . .but they do help me. They are very beneficial to me,” he said. “That’s my stress release, the goats.”

Steele, who plans to represent himself in court, said instead of putting more drugs into his body to ease his symptoms, instead he opts to have three goats - Rhea, Princess and Deputy – that help him “a heck of a lot.”

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