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Jim Thorpe debates short-term rental ordinance

Debate over a draft ordinance regulating short-term rentals in Jim Thorpe borough ended Thursday night with council and property owners agreeing to work together to craft a plan that best addresses concerns from both sides.

Several dozen residents attended the borough’s workshop meeting to comment on a draft ordinance that would dictate where short-term rentals could be located and define parking requirements.

Of main concern to many short-term rental owners was a provision that would, barring a special exception, limit such properties to Broadway, Jim Thorpe’s historic district, and require owners to provide one parking spot per bedroom being rented.

“I support regulation, but this draft is a bit distressing, and I think what it says to us is that the borough doesn’t want the growth and prosperity that belongs to a few in the downtown historic district to be enjoyed by folks on east side,” Matthew Rechs, who owns three rental properties on the east side of town and two in the historic district, said. “I think our priority should be growth. We want to be a part of helping solve this problem.”

Council members seemed shocked Thursday to learn a draft of the ordinance had gotten out, noting they only received it from the planning commission earlier that day. Rechs said most rental owners learned about the ordinance through Facebook.

“We’re just seeing it,” Councilman Jay Miller said. “This is the medium to come discuss things and get it worked out. If someone is putting bad information out on Facebook, I think that’s wrong. Facebook is a poison, and I stay away from it.”

John McGuire, who sits on council and Jim Thorpe’s planning commission, said an ordinance has been in the works for over a year, but is far from completion.

“There is no railroad effect,” McGuire said. “We want to do this right. We’re not trying to stifle Jim Thorpe.”

Council agreed to form a committee, which will include short-term rental owners from all areas of the borough to continue to hash out the ordinance.

“We have a lot riding on this and, to this point, the process has been pretty opaque to us,” Rechs said. “I think 80% of this is good and headed in the right direction, but the devil is in the details, and we’d be happy to be a part of getting that worked out.”

Much of the discussion about short-term rentals stemmed from parking concerns and a five- or six-bedroom property bringing in multiple vehicles to already crowded borough streets, making it hard for full-time residents to park near their homes.

“Our planning commission has been very diligent in this process and trying to find a solution that works for everyone,” Greg Strubinger, council president, said. “We don’t want to be reactive, we want to get out ahead of things.”

Keeping the one parking space per bedroom provision of the ordinance would be a death sentence to short-term rentals, Sierra Fogal told council.

“You’ll put them out of business,” she said. “I think we should embrace the growth. I think the traffic is a good problem to have. We could be Lansford. These are not the problems they are having.”

To alleviate concerns of party houses and rental horror stories, many owners said Thursday night they screen clients and go through extraordinary efforts to make sure they’re getting the highest quality people staying at their properties. They also noted the amount of money they’ve invested in mostly abandoned properties around town to spruce them up.

Communication between rental owners and neighbors, Mayor Mike Sofranko said, could go a long way.

“This is a town that prides itself on community,” Sofranko said. “There was a time when everyone knew where everyone lived and they knew everyone’s phone number. I think if short-term rental owners had a conversation with their neighbors and let them know they are screening clients, let them know the kind of people who are renting, a lot of the concerns would go away.”