GROVE CITY – Grove City council members are still finishing an ordinance amendment that would affect short-term property rentals, pet ownership, and sexually-oriented businesses.
A public hearing was held Monday night during which borough officials noted that they need to make a few more adjustments to the language in Ordinance 1462, so they would not be voting on it during the council meeting that followed.
The ordinance is an amendment to the borough’s existing zoning ordinance that covers rental accommodations like Airbnb and bed and breakfasts, sexually-oriented businesses, and the number of cats and dogs that can be housed in a single borough residence.
Council members have been revising the amendment since the first public hearing was held in January. Ordinance 1462 was initially proposed by the planning commission, said Taylor Pokrant, the borough’s zoning and code enforcement officer.
The hearing, which lasted about a half hour, included testimony from people with concerns about the proposed changes.
Several individuals thanked council members for revising the ordinance while urging them to consider several more changes.
“Your ordinance is still lacking some things in there if you want to eliminate animal hoarding,” said Debbie Shaulis, who runs Pet Solutions, a Mercer-based animal rescue.
She was referring to the section of the ordinance that limits how many cats and dogs people can own in Grove City.
The latest version of the ordinance says that residents can have a maximum of five dogs or 10 cats, or a combination of five dogs and five cats, before they would have to comply with kennel laws.
The ordinance amendment previously said anything over three dogs, or six cats, or a combination of two or more dogs and four or more cats would be considered a kennel.
The proposed ordinance doesn’t address outside animals or all species of animals, Shaulis said, citing a hoarding case in Mercer where a woman was found to have more than 100 animals when her home caught fire.
“A lot of the animals perished in that fire,” Shaulis said of a pig, birds, snakes and guinea pigs.
The ordinance should include limitations on all kinds of pets, she said, and council should also consider a separate ordinance that would make it mandatory for residents to spay and neuter their pets, especially cats.
Mikayla Covington of Grove City, who volunteers with Grove City Area Pet Rescue, agreed that a spay/neuter ordinance could help prevent hoarding.
Sharon Thompson of Grove City said that increasing the allowed number of cats and dogs will help. She hopes that council members are willing to work with the animal rescues on pursuing a spay/neuter ordinance.
A few people encouraged council to take another look at the “short-term rental” part of the ordinance.
The way it’s written now means that Airbnb properties wouldn’t have to follow the same regulations as bed and breakfasts, said Rebecca Hink, who owns the Jacqueline House in New Wilmington. She was also representing the Pennsylvania Association of Bed and Breakfast Inns.
The ordinance currently says that in short-term rentals, there can be two adult guests per available bedroom plus one additional adult guest; children do not count toward those numbers.
The initial draft of the ordinance limited that to two adult guests per household, which was criticized by several residents who rent out their homes through Airbnb.
The amendment could potentially put bed and breakfasts out of business because Airbnb properties are not held to the same standards, Hink said.
Bed and breakfasts have to follow regulations that address the Uniform Construction Code, health and safety, and they must have liability insurance – unlike Airbnb rentals, she said.
William Grigsby, guest relations manager for the Terra Nova House Bed and Breakfast in Grove City, said there are dangers and risks that come with home-sharing, like the potential for drug and sex trafficking.
The borough should impose the same restrictions on properties like Airbnb rentals as they do with bed and breakfasts.
“It is good business practice to have competition,” he said.
Peggy Mazyck, chief executive officer of the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed with Hink and Grigsby, adding taxes, zoning regulations, and trash collection to the list of things that Airbnb properties should have to follow.
Also, the ordinance defines sexually oriented businesses as an enterprise that “provides massage services which do not meet the definition of ‘therapeutic massage’ as defined as a personal service.”
Those “personal services” include things like shoe repair, clothing alterations, barbershops, beauty parlors, exercise studios, pet grooming, and therapeutic massage.
Council members said they need their solicitor Tim Bonner to review the latest version of the ordinance before they vote on its adoption. He was unable to attend Monday’s meeting; his son Ryan Bonner filled in as solicitor.