Ephrata Twp. eyes short-term lodging ordinance

By on April 10, 2019

Ephrata Township supervisors are mulling whether to permit short-term rentals in areas where homeowners have converted unused sections on their property into living spaces.

But after much discussion at its April 2 meeting, the board tabled the issue to allow supervisors to gain more information before committing to a new ordinance.

“Are we going to create a situation where every farm with a tobacco shed could convert it into a rental?” asked Chairman Clark Stauffer.

The township currently has only limited protection in place to prevent that from happening, said township manager Steve Sawyer.

In March, Sawyer presented a draft to the supervisors of a similar ordinance prepared by West Cocalico Township. That township’s ordinance attempts to make sure a responsible party, such as the owner, is on the property during short-term rental periods.

Discussion of the possibility of these short-term rentals for Ephrata Township grew from a request by resident Rebecca Branle. Mr. and Mrs. Branle sought to convert a barn on their property into a short-term rental unit.

Porter Stevens of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, and the planner assigned to Ephrata Township, attended the meeting to advise supervisors about the growing popularity of structure rentals in Lancaster County.

Other municipalities have drawn up ordinances to address structure rentals to safeguard against the possibility of too much leeway for conditional use.

“I would want, under no circumstances, for this board to be the judge of conditional-use,” said the township’s solicitor, Tony Schimaneck.

The supervisors examined a number of considerations regarding short-term rentals, including the maximum rental days allowed and number of rentals per year. Also discussed was if the property would be owner-occupied at the time of such rentals, and safety of the rentals in an agricultural district. The owner of the accessory building would have to be a township resident, said supervisor Tony Haws.

The number of rentals allowed in the township would be another concern.

“The concern would be if a lot of these sprang up, if several farms want to turn accessory buildings into rental units,” Sawyer said.

Along with safety considerations such as smoke detectors and the interior of the building being in good condition, safe electrical connections and adequate, safe heating, the supervisors believe they need more requirements to be hashed out when the rental units would be in an agricultural area. They asked for a safety plan which would keep occupants of a short-term rental safe, while not interfering with agricultural operations.

Such a plan might include required fencing to keep small children out of fields, for example.

The ordinance will have to make distinctions between a short-term rental unit, a bed and breakfast type situation, and fulltime rental properties. The Branles had been previously denied by the zoning hearing board when they requested a special exception to operate a short-term rental on their property at 201 Royer Road in the township.

Their property is zoned agricultural and the proposed short-term rental unit would be located in a renovated barn.

Branle told the supervisors that no active farming was being done on their property.

The Branle couple, who own a number of bicycle shops, see the proposed barn rental as a way to encourage tourism. When folks come to Lancaster County on biking trips, there would be one more place for them to stay, Rebecca said.

The Branle’s historic home on the same property was built in the 1760s, and Rebecca Branle said, they would like to use money from the short-term rental to help maintain the 18th century house.
Branle said she could understand that the supervisors want more information.

“That’s fair, that they want to look into it more; I understand they’re in no hurry,” Branle said. Claudia Shenk, attorney for Rebecca Branle, encouraged the supervisors to allow short-term rentals in the agricultural district so that the zoning hearing board would be able to set restrictions for each property.

In other business, a bigger enrollment than expected will bring temporary building changes to Ephrata Mennonite School. The school has had an enrollment of 290 students, instead of the 200 that were expected. Instead of installing one large modular unit, school officials are asking to keep their current two-room modular and add smaller modular classrooms.

The current unit was approved with the understanding that it would not be permanent and the company must remove the modular units after a lease agreement expires in three years.

“This is just a temporary measure, prior to having the property sold,” Sawyer said. “Even though this is temporary, they will need to submit plans to be reviewed as a commercial building and to meet ADA (American Disabilities Act) standards.”

Keeping the school at its current site with permanent buildings would entail public water and sewer extended to the current site.

That problem has been solved, since Ephrata Mennonite School has found a location for a new school campus at 651 Stevens Road.

Development has begun, Sawyer told the supervisors, and school officials believe the school will be ready for students in three to five years. A detention basin at the new site is large enough to accommodate additional impervious coverage. School officials have been informed they must keep the well and septic system in good working condition as enrollment continues to climb.

In another matter, the final land development plan for Weaverland Mennonite Homes was approved by the supervisors, after Sawyer told the supervisors that storm water management issues had been addressed.

While the building and proposed development are located in Ephrata Borough, the proposed storm water detention basin is located in Ephrata Township. The township municipal building became part of the discussion, as the 27-year-old building has had no improvements.

But that is due to change.

Sawyer introduced a plan to install an electric system and stop using fuel oil.

The township pays about $10,000 a year in fuel oil, Sawyer said.

“It’s going to be a big project; it might be up to $150,000 to completely remove all equipment and change to electric,” Sawyer said. “But the energy savings might be worth it. This is not up for approval yet; we can discuss the project.”

If the supervisors agree, blueprints and putting the project out for bids would be the next step.

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer for the Ephrata Review. She welcomes your comments and questions at weezsholly@verizon.net. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *