Airbnb variance denied

by Tom Beck
Posted 3/14/24

The Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted Wednesday to deny a zoning variance for an Airbnb at 7918 Ardleigh St.

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Airbnb variance denied


The Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted Wednesday to deny a zoning variance that would have allowed homeowners at 7918 Ardleigh St. to legally use the property as an Airbnb. The homeowners, Mark and Veronica Ferrante, had been renting out the property on the popular home-sharing website for two years.

The hearing was the first test in Chestnut Hill of new regulations that went into effect Jan. 1, 2023, requiring the Zoning Board’s approval before non-owner occupied properties can be offered as short-term rentals. Feedback from the community at Wednesday’s meeting was mostly in opposition. That includes Jennifer Yusin, who lives across the street from the Ferrantes’ house. Yusin said that in the two years the Ferrantes had been using their home as an Airbnb, she and her wife have dealt with excessive noise and trash. Complicating the issue, she said, is that they don’t feel safe approaching Airbnb guests they don’t know.

“A serious effect of non-owner occupied short-term visitor accommodations is the generalized erosion of safety and community,” she said. “When the feeling of safety is continuously degraded by the high turnover of people in non-owner occupied accommodations as it has been by this property, we are increasingly compelled to keep our blinds closed, not to say ‘Hi’ to others on the street and avoid helping others when problems emerge.”

Chestnut Hill resident Kristoffer Jacobson also opposed the variance, sharing his experiences with another Airbnb located next to his house. There’d been two times, he said, in which he was awakened in the middle of the night by someone he didn’t recognize trying to enter the home next door through a window.

“Both times it turned out a visitor had lost his key and couldn't get one from the absent owner,” he said. “But at that moment, I had no idea if I was witnessing a burglary. This to me is the core problem with a non-owner occupied short-term visitor accommodation in a residential area. No matter how nice the property is or how well-maintained or how good the guests are…the problem of not knowing who belongs [at the property] does not go away.”

Jacobson also expressed concern for the precedent the variance could set for the neighborhood if the Zoning Board approved the request. 

“My property is surrounded by rental units,” he said. “I have no issue with rentals. But if this variance is granted, the owners of other properties like the ones surrounding me may seek similar permission. If that were to occur, my neighborhood would be changed for the worse.”

The Chestnut Hill Community Association and Philadelphia City Planning Commission also opposed the variance.

Veronica Ferrante, who testified before the ZBA, said that the variance was necessary because she had struggled to find long-term renters. She also said she needed funds from Airbnb guests to recuperate money that was spent on repairs to the home.

“The property is essentially useless otherwise from a financial perspective,” said Ferrante’s attorney, Dawn Tancredi, at the meeting.

When she and Mark Ferrante bought the property, which she said was their first investment property, it was in “a terrible condition.”

“I actually couldn't believe that people were living in that situation,” Ferrante said. “It was dangerous and unsafe.”

The future for Airbnbs in Chestnut Hill

ZBA spokesperson Bruce Bohri told the Local in an email that when deciding to grant any variance, the board always weighs evidence and testimony presented to the board by residents in its public meetings. The agency also weighs the concerns of the applicant and seeks input from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.

Ultimately, Bohri said, “The burden is on the property owner to convince the ZBA to make an exception to the Zoning Code by demonstrating to the ZBA that the criteria for a variance have been met.”

That includes proving a hardship. Applicants, for instance, could argue that a lack of other short-term accommodations in a neighborhood is a reason to grant a variance. That argument could be made, “especially if the neighborhood is outside of Center City,” Bohri said.  Property owners could also insist that losing revenue from their short-term rental property creates hardship. 

“Each case is unique and in each case the ZBA is charged with applying the law to the facts presented,” Bohri said.