Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem planners define what it means to be a hotel

Decision comes in response to Airbnb

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Bethlehem Planning Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to forward a zoning ordinance amendment changing the definition of what the city considers to be a hotel.

The amendment, which will now go before city council and was spurred by controversy over Airbnb sites in residential neighborhoods, would change the city’s zoning ordinance so that a hotel is defined as a building or group of buildings which has a central office and offers one or more rental units, as opposed to seven or more rental units under the current definition.

At a November meeting, the planning commission decided to postpone a vote so that members could have more time to speak with each other and to Darlene Heller, the city’s director of planning and zoning, about the ordinance.

The original amendment before the commission at the November meeting had proposed defining a hotel as a building that offers two or more units. The current version whittles that number down to one.

Commissioners were debating the matter partly due to city homeowners starting to offer Airbnb services this past summer. An Airbnb, or Air Bed and Breakfast, is a service where homeowners can in effect turn their homes into hotels and rent one or more rooms out to people.

Tim Stevens, an Allentown attorney representing more than 35 Bethlehem homeowners opposing Airbnb sites, thanked council for forwarding the ordinance.

One of the owners Stevens represents, Hotel Bethlehem owner Bruce Haines, had suggested at the November meeting revising the definition to include homes offering one unit instead of two. Haines noted that an owner could rent out their entire home for a weekend as long as is it is in a commercial district.

At that meeting, he also said that changing the hotel definition would allow the city to impose various taxes on Airbnb sites, including the hotel tax.

Residents living in neighborhoods with Airbnb sites had been expressing concerns about guests disturbing the peace and littering.

The Bethlehem Planning Commission’s members are Robert Melosky, Matthew Malozi, Thomas Barker, Louis Stellato and Joy Cohen.

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