Council Hears Public Opinion on Proposed Zoning Ordinance

March 19, 2024

WARREN, Pa., – City Council was in “receive mode,” according to Mayor David Wortman at a public hearing held before Monday night’s regular meeting.

Council was programmed to receive the public’s opinion on the changes proposed to its zoning ordinance, which one city resident showed up to argue against Monday night. Arthur Stewart, a resident of Branch Street, told council that his opposition is primarily to the new ordinance’s requirements for short term rentals, and is premised on two specific points:

The first, Stewart said, was the potential difficulty additional requirements would pose to potential business owners considering opening a short-term rental here. With the abundance of natural beauty and outdoor recreation in the area, “I would scratch my head and ask why would we as a city impose restrictions on one of the few things we can do to enhance our economy.”

Short-term rentals – such as Airbnb or Vrbo properties, intended to be rented for 30 days or less – are likely to be more and more sought after in the city as time goes on, Stewart said. “In competitive communities, which I would argue is every community, I don’t encounter these restrictions.”

The restrictions Stewart specifically referenced appear in subsection 470-54 of the proposed new ordinance.

Item B of that subsection reads “The property owner must designate a local property representative for the purpose of: (a) responding to complaints regarding the condition, operation, or conduct of occupants of the short-term rental; and (b) taking remedial action to resolve any such complaints. The name, address, email address and telephone contact number of the property owner and the local property representative shall be kept on file at the City and posted at the property.”

The second premise upon which Stewart based his opposition was the “logical inconsistency” found there as well as in item C, which reads ” A short-term rental may not be used for a purpose other than or not incidental to its use for overnight lodging. This restriction includes using the rental for a wedding, banquet, reception, bachelor or bachelorette party, concert, fundraiser, sponsored event, or any similar group activity.”

“If I can have a party at my house on Branch Street if I can rent my house on Branch Street for 31 days and my tenants can have a party there,” why shouldn’t tenets renting a property for one night or a weekend be allowed to as well? “With due respect,” said Stewart, the proposed ordinance seems to come from “tunnel vision” perspective. “A welcoming offer (for potential new Airbnb or Vrbo owners) will do more for our community than a restrictive one.”

While council was only receiving comments Monday evening, and not providing responses, the city’s Codes and Planning Director Randy Rossey said that a work session will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 1 in council chambers for the purpose of reviewing the proposed ordinance. Brandi Roselli, of Mackin Engineering and Consultants, will participate and answer questions during that work session as well, Rossey said.

In other business Monday evening, council heard from Mayor Wortman that a plan to save money on electricity made by the city in November of 2022 has, in fact, saved over $60,000. By locking in rates and maintaining a consistent use of the utility, Wortman said, the plan should be on track to save the goal amount of between $150,000 to $200,000 over a three year period.

Finally, council unanimously approved a number of business items, including

– approval to apply for the county’s liquid fuels allocation which, this year, is set at $11,700 according to City Manager Mike Holtz.
– approval of the City of Warren Fire Department’s application for a USDA Rural Facilities Grant and Loan program for funding toward the purchase of a 2025 Ford Explorer to replace another vehicle in the department’s fleet.
– approval of a DCNR grant application for updates to Point Park for ADA compliance
– approval of Marquette as the city’s pension plan investment manager
– approval of disposition of non-permanent records according to state requirements
– approval of the disposition of 17 items of surplus city property

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