The future of alternative short-term rentals — commonly referred to as Airbnbs — was a major topic of debate during the Dec. 5 Newport Borough Council meeting.
Tim and Jen Kushner raised the issue as they wish to create such an establishment at their property on the corner of Fifth and Caroline streets, the former location of Salon on 5th.
The Kushners said they felt property owners should have the ability to lease their properties to short-term tenants. They also noted the lack of traditional lodging in the area and that short-term rentals could be a benefit to the community by helping to facilitate tourism. Jen Kushner added she has been “burned” by renting to traditional tenants and wanted to try a new approach.
Councilwoman Tami Halstead said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in the case Slice of Life, LLC. vs. Hamilton Twp., recently ruled that such rentals are not permissible in properties zoned R-1, as the Kushner’s property is zoned.
Halstead operates a traditional bed and breakfast, which she explained is differentiated in that she remains on-site with tenants, which typically is not the case with Airbnbs. She also noted her property is zoned R-2, which allows for multi-family dwellings and short-term rentals.
Solicitor Mary Dissinger suggested long-term rental rules might apply to short-term rentals, depending on how they were written.
After much debate, council President Penny Frownfelter said the matter would be sent to the ordinance committee for review.
In other news, two ordinances were approved for advertising.
The first concerns a change in EPA regulations which requires removal of lead pipes inside homes if the property is sold. This triggered much debate as the ordinance simply refers to water authority rules instead of spelling them out. Frownfelter, who also is chair of the water authority, explained the purpose was to not have to amend the ordinance every time the authority changes its rules.
The second ordinance pertains to snow. Fifth Street remains the borough’s designated snow emergency route. Designation for state roads is prohibited and Fifth is the only street that runs the length of the borough uninterrupted. The ordinance also prohibits the saving of parking spaces with lawn chairs or other items.
Councilman Christian Fickes questioned why the Billy Cox baseball field was locked. He maintained it was a public park and the field should be open to the public year-round.
Halstead said it was locked in order to protect the field from vandalism and damage that often occurred during the off-season. She said the league puts a lot of time and money into maintenance of the facility and “the borough has not spent a dime” on the field’s upkeep. She said if the locks are removed and damage occurs, the borough would have to pay for any necessary repairs.
Frownfelter said she thought a middle ground could be reached where the public could access the field while still allowing for its protection.
The 2024 budget has been advertised and was on the agenda for adoption during a Dec. 19 meeting. Total expenditures are $1,039,000. However, the number is misleading because it includes $464,534 in water and sewer authority bond payments which the borough has to show on its books due to required backing of the bonds, making the “real” amount $574,466 or a 3.4 percent increase over the 2023 budget.
Balance will be achieved by carrying forward $83,511 of prior-year funds. Spending on streets ($118,113) is the largest projected line item followed by borough secretary/office expenses ($61,097) and insurances ($52,428).
Dissinger recommended the borough consider taking a civil instead of criminal path for addressing abandoned and nuisance properties. Recent proceedings against the owners of 499 N. Front St. resulted in a bench warrant being issued when the owner failed to show for the court appearance, however, no constable was willing to execute the warrant, resulting in a legal dead end.