Bethlehem City Hall and Police Department

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Bethlehem Planning Commission tabled a zoning amendment that would include short-term lodging facilities in the zoning ordinance at a meeting on Thursday night.

Commissioners unanimously tabled a zoning text amendment draft that would add short-term lodging as a new use category in the zoning ordinance. Director of Planning and Zoning Darlene Heller presented proposed changes to the ordinance with the consideration of short-term lodging.

Outlined in the draft were definitions regarding the different types of lodging facilities, including hotels. Heller said an example of a short-term lodging facility would be an Airbnb. She further defined the facility as an owner-occupied single family dwelling, which the owner allows temporary rental of the unit for no more than 30 consecutive days.

Heller said that the ordinance also defines a "transient visitor” as an occupant of a dwelling or sleeping unit for no more than 30 consecutive nights.

Commissioners ran into a problem with the occupancy time. Commissioner Matt Malozi pointed out places where the ordinance could cause issues in more dense residential neighborhoods, and possibly be a public safety concern. This was especially of concern in the single-family home district.

“I understand if there’s a single occupant or empty-nesters, or whatever the case may be, renting out rooms,” Malozi said. “There’s just strangers in neighborhoods for long durations of time.”

Malozi indicated that someone could easily occupy a facility for 30 days, leave for a night and then occupy the same facility for another 30 days.

Heller then asked Malozi to clarify what changes he would like to see to the ordinance. Malozi responded by suggesting that perhaps 30 days at a time would leave the window open for those facilities to become long duration rentals. He also said permitting short-term lodging in that zoning district could cause issues with parking.

Heller said there were discussions held with residents that live in the zoning area. She said that while there were concerns on both sides, they felt that the ordinance allowed these lodgings, but also limited the impacts. Heller said there weren’t many issues, except when the short-term lodgings were being conducted without the facility being owner occupied.

The draft also included regulations for those who choose to run a short-term lodging facility out of their homes. Owners must be licensed and adhere to annual inspections outlined in ordinance 1741.

The board will review the draft again at the next planning commission. If approved, it will go to city council.