The Swarthmore Zoning Hearing Board heard testimony on Tuesday night, September 26, from the owner of a Riverview Road home now hosting guests for short- and medium-term stays, and from her neighbors who oppose the use of a garage apartment as accommodations for these guests.
Owners of Swarthmore properties with RB (single-family residential) zoning are free to accommodate up to two unrelated parties in addition to themselves and their own relatives. Many do so, some advertising these accommodations with services like AirBnB and VRBO. Several bed and breakfasts in town have been granted special zoning exceptions to allow hosting of more than two guests at a time, in up to four bedrooms.
Swarthmore Borough manager and zoning officer Jane Billings clarified several of the borough’s 15 rules concerning B & Bs: owners must live in the property as it is being used for guest accommodations, guests can stay no longer than seven days in a month, and the rooms rented must be within the main residence on the property, not in detached or accessory buildings (a rule which also pertains to non-B & B residences).
This last condition is a point of contention between homeowner Aurora Winslade of 207 Riverview Road and her neighbors, several of whom said they began seeing unfamiliar faces around the property early last spring. These were Winslade’s early guests, who were lodging in a recently repaired apartment on the second floor of the detached garage at 207. They have continued to come at a fairly steady rate, she says, drawn through personal referrals, neighborhood connections, and AirBnB listings.
Winslade has recently applied to the ZHB for a determination that the garage is a permissible location for rental, or for zoning relief to make it so, and for a special exception to allow use of the property as a B & B. On Tuesday, the Zoning Hearing Board heard testimony that offers radically different characterizations of the current use of the property as a regular abode for guests in stays ranging from a few days to a month.
“I bought this house to be the primary residence for my family,” Winslade said. She said that it is her goal to create a true family environment for herself, her partner` and two sons, with longer term renters comprising integral parts of the household. “The B & B is a much lower priority for me,” she said; it would be an alternative means to the end of producing income to maintain the house as a home for her family.
Neighbors say they might accept either lodgers or B & B clients, but not if they use the garage apartment currently being rented by Winslade’s guests. Several suggested that owners who share one roof with their renters are likely to be more invested in evaluating applicants for lodging than they would be with separate structures. Privacy concerns were raised, suggesting that sightlines from the 2nd floor garage apartment into neighbors’ decks, yards and homes make neighbors uncomfortable and diminish their enjoyment of their properties. Parking concerns were also raised, although Winslade said that there will be at least four parking spaces at the property, and that her family only has one car.
Attorneys for Winslade and for her neighbors will review transcripts of Tuesday’s two and a quarter hours of testimony, formulate their summary arguments and submit them in brief form for the zoning hearing board’s review. The board hopes to report its decision at its October 24 meeting.