Ephrata council seeks short-term rental input

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EPHRATA — The Ephrata City Council devoted much of its most recent Wednesday meeting discussing proposed regulations for short-term vacation rentals — like Air BnB — with parking and pets topping the list of council concerns.

“We have some narrow streets here,” said council member William Coe. “I’m not so sure some neighbors are willing to put up with 10 additional cars for 29 days.”

The Ephrata City Council began discussing regulating short-term in-home vacation and temporary rentals almost a year ago after Justin Kooy, who had signed up as an Air BnB host, was cited by the city for violating Ephrata zoning ordinances.

Kooy ran for city council last fall, and won. He recused himself from the Wednesday discussion.

Ron Sell, the city’s director of planning and community development, said the city planning commission spent a lot of time creating “a workable ordinance” for short-term vacation rentals.

Sell said the commission worked a lot on precise definitions — a bed and breakfast can have up to five guest rooms for 10 guests, the owners must be present when guests stay, meals can only be served to guests, and no stay can be longer than 29 days.

The proposed ordinance would also require proprietors of short-term rentals to obtain a city business license — something City Administrator Wes Crago said would be the ultimate sanction for businesses that fail to follow city codes and rules.

“We’re not requiring additional parking than zoning requires,” Sell told the council.

Sell said that a lot of towns do not consider short-term vacation rental any different from ordinary single family residences.

“How many are advertised in our town?” asked council member Kathleen Allstot.

According to both Sell and Kooy, there are three Ephrata residences currently listed on Air BnB. He added he is currently not in the business, but may resume letting out his 400 square foot detached cottage once the city clarifies the rules.

“All my guests were excellent,” Kooy said. “Having something like this brings people to Ephrata.”

In addition to unease about traffic and parking, Allstot said she was concerned that guests at short-term rentals would also violate the city’s pet ordinance, which limits the number of animals at a single residence to three.

“This does not override other city ordinances,” Crago said.

The city council decided to hold a public hearing on the matter after several council members said they wanted more public input. Sell said that despite months of planning commission hearings and meetings, they received very little public feedback.

“I want to hear from the community,” Allstot said.

The public hearing is scheduled for the city council’s next regular meeting at 7 p.m., on Wednesday, March 7.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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