West Chester Borough Council Approves New ADU Ordinance
After weeks of “by right” presentations by builders that all but guarantee the construction of 500 new apartment units over the next two years, West Chester Borough Council moved this week on two ordinances that, intentionally or not, return some autonomy to the homeowner. On Tuesday night Borough Council reviewed wording for a new short-term rental ordinance that would allow Airbnbs and other short-term rentals to legally operate in residential areas of the Borough. Then on Wednesday, by a vote of 6 to 1, Borough Council passed a new ADU, or accessory dwelling unit, ordinance.
Under the newly approved ADU statute, homeowners can construct an up to 800 sq. foot apartment on their property. This can take the form of an in-law suite, basement walkout, or garage apartment. You just need to show a separate entrance for the unit, adequate on-site parking, and if you are looking to rent it, a rental agreement with the Borough.
Neither proposal has unanimous support. Opponents of the ADU ordinance worry about adding density and vehicles to an already crowded 1.8 square miles. Those fighting the short-term rental agreement cite concerns over losing valuable rental space to short-term renters, more strangers on the street, and a further loss of parking.
“In a short time, we will have approximately 800 new souls living in the Borough which we can not stop because of the right to build. Our density is already breathtaking,” Councilman Bernie Flynn shared in a statement.
According to World Population Review, West Chester has a population density of 10,156 people per square mile. For context, Phoenixville has a slightly higher overall population of 19,936 but a density of just 5,678 people per square mile. Philadelphia’s population density is 11,378 people per square mile.
“I will be voting against the conversion of back houses and garages into living space. The Borough doesn’t have a housing crisis, we can’t fit anymore in this space. God isn’t making any more dirt and our dirt is covered,” Bernie stated.
Proponents of the ordinance tell a different story, one that focuses on the opportunity to expand and diversify homeownership in the Borough. The ADU ordinance offers a lofty set of goals including increasing the supply of attainable housing, providing homeowners with a means to earn extra income, and enhancing the local property tax base without straining existing infrastructure.
“I don’t think because we are seeing some bad development we should close off our minds to the potential of a few very small incremental steps,” said Planning Commission member Thomas Doughtery in support of the ordinance.
Similarly, advocates see the short-term housing ordinance, which will only apply to owner-occupied properties (rental properties are exempted from both ordinances) as a way to extend to homeowners another income source while serving a need for more short-term accommodation options.
In the end, change, if it comes, is likely to be small.
“Legislation is passed and cities are proud when they have four ADUs built over the next four years,” said Thomas. The evidence seems to bear this out. Lexington, MA, which is similar in size and needs to West Chester, recently loosened restrictions on its 1983 ADU ordinance after seeing an average of 3 units built a year over the 20-year period. West Chester’s ordinance also includes requirements, particularly around parking, that will limit where these units can be built. Similar restrictions were outlined for the short-term rental ordinance.
In the meantime, a much bigger problem looms. “As the only renter on Council, the housing crisis is rough right now in the Borough.” said Councilman Nick Allen. “I would love to own a home here. I am actively trying and it’s just really hard.” (Nick voted in favor of the new ADU ordinance but doen not support allowing short-term rentals).
- You can read more about the specifics of the ADU ordinance here.
Short-term Rentals and Airbnbs
This week West Chester also moved closer to allowing short-term rentals. (While not technically allowed, many Airbnbs operate in the Borough. Surprisingly, however, outside of a lawyer representing Krupa Daniel, the infectious disease doctor whose application blew this whole thing open, no local Airbnb operators showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to advocate on their own behalf.)
Despite the lack of operator input, Borough Council seems poised to allow homeowners to rent out a portion of their property for periods of 30 days or less. This shift along with the approval of the ADU ordinance appears to be part of a movement to provide residents with more options to combat rising real estate prices.
Under the discussed terms, homeowners who live in the town center, NC-1 or NC-2 districts could rent out a portion of their residences on a short-term basis. However, residents who live outside the town center will need to show they can provide designated guest parking.
There is no additional parking requirement for those in the town center, where parking garages and lots provide sufficient extra parking. Now whether Airbnb will be a viable option for out-of-town-guests visiting for this year’s Parents Weekend, is still TBD. A final version of the ordinance including these agreed-upon changes is expected in August with a Public Hearing scheduled for sometime in September.
Published, July 21, 2023
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