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Bethel Planning Commission Passes New Rules For B&B's In Residential Zones

The Hackneys' short term rental addition in Blueberry Subdivision that is at the center of a dispute between the Hackneys and the City of Bethel. Photo taken May 5, 2021.
Greg Kim

The Bethel Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve changes to the city code governing bed and breakfast businesses in Bethel. The changes apply to bed and breakfasts in residentially zoned areas. The commission will send the proposal to Bethel City Council for consideration.

The commission passed its decision July 15.

Bed and breakfasts are not allowed to operate in residential zones under the current code, but eight do. Many owners have city business licenses and pay city taxes. Bethel Planning Commission chair Kathy Hanson said that the situation developed from the city finance department issuing licenses and collecting taxes without consulting zoning codes. Now the city wants to bring those residential bed and breakfasts into compliance and create a consistent standard for new businesses.

“Our codes do not match what the operations are. So instead of just letting people operate outside the law, we said, 'Let’s figure this out and organize it and give some structure to it, and then it’ll be clearer for everyone,'” Hanson said.

The goal of the changes is to bring the bed and breakfasts in residential areas into legal compliance, while maintaining the residential quality of neighborhoods. It also wants to avoid adding strain to city infrastructure like water and sewer.

Among the most significant changes, business owners would have to live in their bed and breakfast as their primary residence, and only three guest bedrooms would be allowed, with three guests per bedroom. One parking space would be required per bedroom for owners and guests. Owners would have to submit annual affidavits to the city saying that their property has not changed.

About 10 community members spoke against the proposal. Their main contention was the three-guest bedroom limit. Many pointed out that the city stands to gain more tax revenue with more guest bedrooms.

“Proposing a limit of three bedrooms in a B&B in a town that has a housing shortage doesn’t make any sense at all, and is a serious overreach of control proposed by the city,” Carole Jung-Jordan said.

Wade Renfro said that the bedroom limit could hurt businesses that use short-term rentals to house employees, businesses like his. Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures takes clients on hunting and fishing trips. If the goal is to limit the number of people entering a residential area, he would rather the number of guests be limited than the number of bedrooms.

“I can’t bring in a woman and a man to share a room somewhere that aren’t a couple, obviously," Renfro said. "So for me to house people, and YK[HC], we need to have individual rooms, whether that’s two beds or one.”

Multiple people referenced Bethel’s high cost of living as a reason to oppose the amendments.

“We’re stymieing people’s ability to make money. And by making money, I don’t mean it in the way of get rich quick. I mean it literally to afford to live here,” Bethel Planning Commission alternate Jess Schroeder said.

One community member spoke in favor of the changes. Harry Faulkner said that as a hotel owner, he supports bed and breakfasts in Bethel. But he opposes large ones in residential zones, like in his neighborhood, Blueberry Subdivision.

“I have five guys in camo walking down my road. I’m looking out my front window going, 'Who are these people?' Two days later I have another five. I know they’re armed. They’re hunters. I don’t know who these people are, and that’s not why I built in a residential subdivision: to have people I don’t know walking in my neighborhood back in front of my house,” Faulkner said.

The commission unanimously rejected a proposed amendment to expand the number of allowed guest bedrooms in bed and breakfasts from three to five.

The commission amended the proposed code to allow one year for bed and breakfast owners in residential zones to reach compliance. As originally written, the code would have allowed all existing bed and breakfasts to be grandfathered in. Only new establishments would have had to meet the code.

This action is not the final word. The planning commission’s recommendation to approve changes to the city code regarding bed and breakfasts will be sent to the Bethel City Council for consideration. If the council introduces the proposal during its July 27 meeting, the item could appear for public hearing on August 10.

Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.
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