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Oversight board proposed for short-term rental operators

The representative for a group of Jim Thorpe short-term rental operators pitched an oversight board to borough council Thursday night, but members of the governing body said regulating such properties is not going to happen overnight.

With the popularity of such accommodations growing in the tourist heavy town, council has been grappling with how to best manage them. For well over a year, Jim Thorpe’s planning commission has tried to fine tune ordinance language to alleviate concerns, but nothing has come to a vote.

Last week, on the same night council received a draft ordinance regulating the properties, Matthew Rechs, who owns five short-term rentals in the borough, expressed concern with some of its contents.

Rechs returned Thursday, saying he believed regulation could be handled by a board of directors made up of short-term rental owners and council members.

“I think it would be a fair governing body, and short-term rental owners could operate only with a permit granted by that association,” Rechs said. “I think we could voluntarily get a huge percentage of operators to comply with any concerns in a very short period of time. I agree that we want to control the growth of these properties and address public safety, which I think could be done with this oversight association.”

Council didn’t immediately reject the idea, but did caution that no decisions would be made, “for probably quite some time.”

Mayor Mike Sofranko again spoke of the concerns of the tight-knit Jim Thorpe community, which would need to be addressed before discussions progressed.

“In talking to residents, a few of them asked about zoning and if the short-term rentals are considered businesses,” Sofranko said. “If they are, and they are located in a residential district, how does that play out?”

Borough Manager Maureen Sterner said other businesses that seek to be located in a residential district can do so by obtaining special exception or conditional use approval.

“I think it’s great that we’re here talking about this,” Sofranko said, “but this is something that needs to be addressed. How does having a business in a residential district affect the homeowner’s property value? We have to get this right. Let’s throw it up on a wall and see what sticks, but let’s pay attention to what’s coming back.”

Rechs’ proposal outlined a three strikes rule for short-term rentals, and he indicated that anyone not abiding by certain criteria would not be able to get a permit in the future.

“We all understand regulation is necessary, but I think this association would resolve concerns in a way that is fair and sustainable,” Rechs said.

Last week, Rechs said his concerns with the ordinance in its current draft form had to do with where short-term rentals could be located and how many parking spaces they had to provide for guests.

The draft has 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 think around 80 percent of this ordinance is good, but the devil is in the details, and that is what we need to get worked out,” Rechs told council at its Sept. 5 workshop.

Sheila O’Neil, owner of The Gilded Cupid Bed and Breakfast in Jim Thorpe, said she welcomes short-term rentals in the borough, but wants to see council have them follow the same criteria as bed-and-breakfasts when it comes to safety.

“We do not dislike short-term rentals,” she said. “But when it comes to things like having smoke detectors and fire alarms, we want to see them take the same steps. Welcome everyone, but follow regulations.”

Council Vice President Jay Miller, who ran Thursday’s meeting in Greg Strubinger’s absence, said the discussion would continue as both sides work together to iron out issues.

“We’re a long way from anything,” he said.