Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem Council votes to regulate neighborhood Airbnb

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The dilemma over Airbnb in Bethlehem starts with Jay Brew and his wife Mary Ellen Williams.

The couple bought several properties downtown, fixed them up, and started renting out the rooms, short-term.

But several months ago, the city stepped in. 

"What we found with 258 East Market Street is that they were operating a commercial business in a residential neighborhood. And so it all comes down to zoning," said Alicia Miller Karner, Bethlehem's Director of Community and Economic Development, at the time.

So began a long dispute, with Brew and his wife digging in .

"It makes you kind of sad but at the same time we're ready for a fight," Brew told WFMZ several months ago.

That fight reached a major turning point last night.

Bethlehem City Council voted 6-0 to back new regulations on Airbnb.

Two arrangements will be allowed:

1) Homeowners can rent up to two bedrooms in their house for up to 30 days. In that case, the owner will need to stay at the house with their guests.

2) Homeowners can rent their entire house for up to 30 days. In that case, the owner can stay somewhere else.

Units rented on sites like Airbnb will also be inspected, and owners will need to keep a list of guests.

"I think the ordinance is a good step in the right direction," said Eileen Budd, who lives near two homes with rooms rented through Airbnb in downtown Bethlehem.

One issue she worries about is the safety of her young children.

"With people coming and going and transient short-term guests, I have no clue who has stayed across the street from me or two doors down. And that is very, very scary," she said. 

Another neighbor, albeit several months ago, had a different take.

"They're afraid that riff-raff will come in, lose parking places, but it just makes no sense because everyone has been so pleasant for the last couple weekends that people have been here," she said.

Budd and other neighbors told WFMZ Wednesday that there have been noise problems, and this is no place for a house full of Airbnb rooms that functions like a hotel.

"Put it in a commercial or mixed-use area and be profitable there and I will gladly support that. It's just that we're in a residential area and this is not something that should be here," she said.

The final vote is expected Dec. 5.

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