Council restricts temporary housing
City council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance taxing and restricting the burgeoning temporary rental industry Dec. 5.
The ordinance, Article 1741 of the Codified Ordinances of the City of Bethlehem, is to enhance “accountability of property owners and transient visitors, minimize risk of communal disturbances and conflicts,” ensure “safe, healthy and nondiscriminatory housing arrangements for Transient Visitors,” an to minimize “excessive noise, on-street parking” and “inappropriate conduct.”
Two councilmembers argued eloquently against a last minute amendment to limit home rentals to a minimum of seven days; however that amendment was added to the ordinance.
Councilmen Adam Waldron and Shawn Martell both argued the amendment would unfairly penalize the family that genuinely needs to rent a spare bedroom to make needed extra money, however when fellow councilmen did not support their rationale, they voted for the final form of the ordinance as amended. Martell said that there are about 250 properties throughout the city operating short-term rentals.
During the public comment, resident Mary Rose Wilson likened investors who bought homes with the intent to rent them through Airbnb as being “robber barons” coming to the community to make money.
At a previous meeting Nov. 21, Wilson read a letter from a friend David Sehring who said, “I would hate to see what would happen to the character of this area as a few folks try to cash in and make a quick buck in an effort to skirt the system at the expense of their neighbors and neighborhoods.”
Roland Yoshida during public comment said he retired from Lehigh University to live in Bethlehem, a “safe and warm place.” He said he is concerned about home owners who will be able to rent their property for 30-plus days.
Resident Bill Scheirer said that the proliferation of Arbnb rentals will be detrimental in that “we will still be a city, but not a community.”
In other business, council appointed Cathy Reuscher and Emil Signes to the Bethlehem Area Public Library Board.
The Council approved mayoral appointments: Dennis R. Connell, A. Flexer Illick, and Bryan L. Ritter to the Codes Appeal Board; Frank E. Baran to the Bethlehem Human Relations Commission; Deirdre Sumpter to the Sister City Commission; Sandra Gillen, Ellen Foscue Johnson and Dolores Yaschur Sproule to the Fine Arts Commission.
Other ordinance passed were amendments to the International Property Code and to the Board of Appeals ordinance.
Also passed were resolutions authorizing contracts, reimbursements, and certificates of approval for modifications to several city buildings. Among these was approval of an increase to the license and inspection fee for “short term lodging facilities” to $100.