“the off-street parking requirement is too restrictive for the Mrs. McVey’s of the City”

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Alan Lowcher, Esq. concentrates on real estate and land use law, speaks on the life of Abraham Lincoln, presents history-themed “lessons for lawyers” through the NJ Bar Association, and is a member of several associations promoting a deeper understanding of American history.

Gadfly:

The proposed Short Term Lodging Facility (STL) ordinance eliminates “whole house” short term rentals, which practice is what brought this issue to the attention of residents and City Council.

My concern with the ordinance is that the off-street parking requirement is too restrictive for the Mrs. McVey’s of the City:  good neighbors with an unused bedroom (or two) to rent out in order to help with upkeep, or just to be an ambassador of good will to travelers to Bethlehem.

Instead of 4, 5 or 6 bedrooms that could be used for short term stays, each bedroom equating to a automobile vying for a parking space,  now it is perhaps one or two automobiles.

Many otherwise qualifying STL facilities do not have two (or three) off-street parking spaces.

The proposed 2-bedroom limitation adequately addresses the parking concerns.

I would encourage City Council to re-consider the off-street parking requirement.

Alan

The proposed short-term lodging ordinance: “a balancing act between protecting neighborhoods and individual property rights”

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City Council held a public hearing on the short-term lodging issue March 3. Once again, Sara provides us with a good overview of the hearing. Note the contribution by Gadfly follower Kate McVey.

Sara K. Satullo, “Is Bethlehem going too far to restrict Airbnb rentals? Council and some residents aren’t sure.” Lehighvalleylive.com, March 8, 2020.

For 30 years, Kate McVey’s lived in her four-bedroom home steps from Moravian College’s campus, taking great pride in her Bethlehem home. With room to spare, McVey’s discovered that renting a single room on Airbnb helps her keep her home updated and her bills paid.

“I’d like to think I am a good neighbor,” McVey told Bethlehem’s City Council last week. Her guests have spanned all ages, exposing her to wonderful people in town for a job interview or a special event, she said. Folks often Uber from the airport or bus station and don’t take up a parking spot on Lorain Avenue where parking can be at a premium, McVey said.

McVey was one of three Airbnb hosts who spoke at a city council hearing Tuesday on a proposed zoning ordinance to share their concerns about a proposal to more tightly regulate the city’s short-term rental market. Bethlehem’s trying to rein in the practice of investors snatching up properties in the Historic District solely for renting them on home sharing sites like VRBO, Airbnb and HomeAway.

But residents and some members of council expressed concerns that the restrictions might go too far and inhibit legitimate home-sharing efforts, which the city says it doesn’t want to discourage. “This is a tourist city,” Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith said. The quality of life for residents is paramount, but it is a shame a “few bad apples” are ruining the process, Crampsie Smith said.

Under the proposed changes, a homeowner must be living in their property, present for all rentals and renting no more than two rooms. A home could not be rented for more than 30 consecutive nights under the proposal and the city requires annual licensing and inspections. The proposed zoning change also requires two off-street parking spaces per home and a third space if two rooms are rented. This does not apply to homes in the central business district, per the proposal.

Councilman Bryan Callahan opposes investors offering up city properties on home-sharing websites, but he has no problem with a resident renting their house for a month while they are on vacation, he said.

The city currently has 20 short-term lodging facilities that are properly licensed and inspected. But a few online searches turn up plenty operating outside the bounds of the regulation.

The city currently has 20 short-term lodging facilities that are properly licensed and inspected. But a few online searches turn up plenty operating outside the bounds of the regulation.

Councilman J. William Reynolds called this a balancing act between protecting neighborhoods and individual property rights. Much of it depends on how a judge interprets the regulations, he said. It will be very difficult to prove someone is renting their owner-occupied home when they are away, Reynolds said.

Resolution on short-term lodging coming to Council Tuesday

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The phenomenon of Airbnb/short-term lodging/short-term rentals has been an acute issue for some people in the Northside Historic District, but it is also a concern for others as the “Town Square” essay by Paul Peuker that we published yesterday shows. In fact, Gadfly has concerns relative to his own neighborhood. (Click on Airbnb or Short-term lodging under Topics on the right-hand Gadfly sidebar for previous posts.)

New legislation for the zoning code that has been working its way to City Council was discussed at the Planning Commission on January 9 and will come to Council Tuesday night in the form of a resolution to collect all kinds of information before enacting the legislation.

10o Resolution-Short Term Lodging Zoning Text Amendments (2)

At the moment Gadfly doesn’t have copies of the two exhibits mentioned in the resolution coming forward Tuesday, but here is an “unclean,” marked up draft of the latest revision of the proposed new addition to the zoning ordinance (Housing Ordinance 1741 on short-term lodging has been in operation for a year or two).  The January 9 Planning Commission recommended no changes in this draft. It just may be a bit confusing for you to read.

Here is the City Planning Director helpfully summarizing for the PC (and for us!) the background leading to the upcoming resolution and proposed legislation:

Here to Gadfly’s mind are some key components of the draft zoning legislation that followers might be interested in:

  • Owner-occupied (a big concern in the Northside Historic District): Short Term Lodging use is only permitted in an owner occupied single family dwelling existing and occupiable by persons as of January 1, 2020 or, for lots exceeding one( 1 )acre in size,in an accessory or outbuilding structure existing and occupiable by persons as of January 1 ,2020.
  • Parking: Two offstreet parking spaces are required for the dwelling. One additional space is required if more than one room is rented. These off-street requirements shall not apply to any short term lodging facility in a CB Zoning District.
  • Number of rooms: No more than 2 rooms on any lot may be offered for rent in any short term lodging facility regardless of the size of the structure or number of bedrooms.
  • Renovation: No exterior alteration or expansion shall be made to any building for purposes of furnishing or expanding short term lodging, except as may be required for purpose of sanitation, handicapped accessibility, historic rehabilitation or safety.

Bruce Haines and the Gadfly had suggestions for changes and questions, but since the upcoming action by Council is just a resolution to collect information, Gadfly will save that information for a later post.

But what are you seeing and thinking? Responses invited.

“Airbnb is good for Bethlehem”

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A “Town Square” in today’s Morning Call. A thorny issue as you can see if you browse past posts in this thread. There’s a short-term lodging ordinance on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting. So it’s time to pay attention. Gadfly will post again on this issue in the near future, before the meeting.

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Airbnb 2

Airbnb 3

Bethlehem’s Catch-22: what attracts can also erode

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

It’s a “Catch 22” situation in Bethlehem, maybe more than ever before. What is attracting visitors, new residents, and development to Bethlehem is a city with many opportunities and amenities. However, with each of those advances it begins to erode the very quality of life and aura that Bethlehem offers. When will enough be enough? Individually an AirBnB, an out-of-context development, non-compliance may not seem that intrusive. But, when you start looking at the sum total of what is happening, the very characteristics that people find attractive become tarnished, and that sought-after quality of life is no longer maintained. Bethlehem has to be better by establishing standards so that those that come respect those that are already in place in Bethlehem. That is often not happening and is why residents are showing up to defend what they want and like about this town. Unfortunately, greed is often overwhelming what makes sense and builds a sound community, and some politicians are weak-kneed and often influenced by campaign contributions. We who are already here deserve better.

Dana

Concern that our original short-term lodging ordinance isn’t working

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In our last post in this series about the Planning Commission consideration of this proposed new Short-Term Lodging amendment to the City Zoning Ordinance, we listened to discussion led by one Commissioner about limiting the duration of a transient’s stay in short-term lodging and limiting the total time annually in which a home-owner could offer short-term lodging. Both questions related to the impact of short-term lodging on the quality of neighborhood life. Good.

Next, to understand the concern of Bruce Haines, managing partner of the Hotel Bethlehem — and “representing a neighborhood” — one has to back up to the passage in 2017 of the original attempt to control the perceived and experienced dangers of short-term lodging to the Northside Historical District represented by Airbnb: Article 1741.

Article 1741 was designed to address the concerns of neighbors about Airbnb (and no doubt similar businesses), and the current proposed zoning amendment requires that short-term lodging hosts must comply with “all aspects” of 1741.

So here’s Haines framing the purpose of 1741:

Haines’s present “beef,” if you will, is that the zoning amendment under consideration by the Planning Commission does nothing to address the shortcomings of 1741 (shortcomings of enforcement?). He identifies, for example, two specific properties in the Northside Historical District that have separate apartments and thus are not single family homes yet are licensed by the City for short-term lodging — even after being reported to the City.

“The ordinance that’s in place has been an utter failure . . . . and this isn’t going to help it. . . . The only time you should allow transient visitors in a residential community should be if they are sharing the space.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Haines seems to have run into the wall of compartmentalization. The Planning Commission chair focused just on the zoning amendment at that moment before the Commission and not this shortcoming of what we might call the “parent” 1741 ordinance.

And thus all Mr. Haines could do was make known his disappointment that persisting problems with short-term lodging in his neighborhood weren’t being addressed.

And so the long-standing “Airbnb” issue in the Northside Historical District is still not resolved despite legislation supposed to address their concerns.

The Planning Commission discusses the City short-term lodging proposal

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Your tax dollars at work!

Let’s look at the Planning Commission in action.

We looked at the “short-term lodging” ordinance newly proposed for the zoning code last time.

And Gadfly asked if it seemed reasonable, asked if you saw anything discussable.

Let’s suppose that almost all of us reading here are not offering short-term lodging.

One thing for us to think about is how this ordinance would affect you if you wanted to offer short-term lodging.

Gadfly, for instance, has a five-bedroom house. Suppose he wanted to offer two of them per the proposed ordinance for short-term lodging.

Is the new ordinance reasonable for his purpose? Yes, seems so.

But another thing to think about is how this ordinance would affect you and your mainly residential neighborhood if one or more of your neighbors went into the short-term lodging business.

Yeah, now there’s an issue Gadfly is familiar with.

A single woman on the block was offering short-term lodging in the early days of this business, before the others of us were familiar with the concept, and, besides a bit of a crimp in available parking sometimes, we were bothered by the coming and going of strange men at all hours of the night. It gave the neighborhood a different feel. An insecure feel.

Well, what did the Planning Commissioners see?

In this interesting clip, we see the Planning director frame the fair positive purpose of the ordinance (in a time in which affordable housing is an issue, this ordinance allows people to stay in their homes and make a few extra dollars) and then one of the Commissioners (Mr. Malozi) think out some potential problems.

We should note in passing that the Planning director says that when homes are owner occupied, there is no problem with short-term lodging — the problems come in situations when the owners don’t live there — that was the rub in the contentious issue in the Northside Historical District..

Mr. Malozi has two questions, the first being could a “transient” (the language of the ordinance) stay the 30 days allowed, leave for a day, and return for another permitted 30 days, and on and on. Gadfly is not sure he sees the problem here. Actually, he feels longer duration of transients might make the situation more comfortable for neighbors. You could get to know or at least recognize the transients, for instance.

The second question seemed more important to Gadfly. Should there be an upper limit of days that lodging could be offered? For instance, could you book your rooms 365 days a year? Hmmm. No specific upper limit was nailed down, but 90 days and 180 days were floated. Mr. Malozi, laudably, was concerned about the quality of the neighborhood with a high number of transients. Yeah, Gadfly gets that.

The PC seemed to favor a revision to accommodate concerns in regard to this second question and, unable to agree on a limitation, they tabled consideration till the next meeting.

Gadfly wondered about some limitation on the number of short-term lodging homes in a particular area. Gadfly lives near Moravian College, a good market, especially at certain times of the year. What if, for instance, instead of the just one short-termer on his block, there would be five. Now that would seriously change the neighborhood. And would be a great worry.

What do you think of the questions Mr. Malozi raised? See anything else?

We aren’t done yet with discussion at the meeting.

to be continued . . .