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Bethel City Council To Again Weigh Restrictions On Bed And Breakfasts

Elyssa Loughlin

During their Aug. 24 meeting, the Bethel City Council will discuss extending an ordinance to prevent water shutoff for those who can’t pay their water bill during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also continue its discussion of adopting new rules for bed and breakfasts.

You’ve likely heard a version of this ordinance before. Since August of 2020, Bethel City Council has upheld an ordinance to continue water and sewer service to customers who can’t pay their bill during the pandemic. 

This new proposal looks a little different. It would cap the debt at $10,000 for local businesses, and at $5,000 for residential customers, cutting off and water and sewer service after that point. The new ordinance would also require customers who go more than $500 in debt to collaborate on a repayment plan with the city. 


The new limitations come after City Manager Pete Williams’ presentation at the last city council meeting. Williams said that the total water debt is approaching $200,000 dollars, split between 51 different accounts. Vice Mayor Haley Hanson expressed concern that continuing to provide water service free of charge meant that some community members would be left with "crippling debt" at the end of the pandemic. 


Also during the meeting, the council is scheduled to hold a public hearing to consider new guidelines for bed and breakfasts in residentially zoned areas. The proposed ordinance says that bed and breakfasts in residential neighborhoods must be owner-occupied and would be limited to only three guest bedrooms. The ordinance would give existing bed and breakfasts one year to come into compliance. 


During the prior council meeting, councilmembers rejected an amendment that would have grandfathered in five of the existing bed and breakfasts in a split 3-3 vote. The council has seven members on it and a simple majority is required to pass agenda items, but councilmember Perry Barr was absent from the meeting.


Councilmember Rose “Sugar” Henderson, who voted against the grandfather amendment, said that businesses that have not been following the rules should not get special treatment. 


"In the past it was common knowledge that it was illegal to put a B&B in a residential area. So why would we want to reward those that have broken the law and grandfather them in?" asked Henderson.


Councilmembers who voted in favor of the grandfather amendment said that they do not want to pass the new rules without making exceptions for existing businesses. Mayor Michelle DeWitt said that she doesn’t believe that most of the existing businesses had been knowingly breaking the code.


"I am uncomfortable not offering some sort of pathway forward for existing businesses. I understand it's a business' responsibility when they open to make sure they're in compliance with all of code, but some of the code can be challenging to digest," said DeWitt.


The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 24. You can participate over Zoom, or show up in person to the ONC multipurpose building. You can also listen live on KYUK 640 AM.