Town of Berlin

Town Hall on William Street in Berlin.

When asked about issue, Berlin members all agree, ‘we need to do something’

(Nov. 22, 2019) For the second time, a discussion about Airbnb properties in Berlin took over the late innings of a Berlin Planning Commission meeting, when members last Wednesday resumed a conversation that began in October.

The subject was broached back then when Chairman Chris Denny inquired about existing policies regarding Airbnb and other short-term rental properties.

In last Wednesday’s conversation, Planning Director Dave Engelhart recounted reports of the impacts short-term rental properties were having in Delaware, partly because of increased traffic they generate.

“In Lewes, people are moving, long-term residents are moving out of town,” said Planning Commission member Ron Cascio said.

Engelhart also said he wanted to determine how the commission members felt about this issue.

Both Cascio and commission member Newt Chandler agreed that “we need to do something.”

Engelhart said that Berlin’s code has language for owner-occupied bed and breakfasts, but nothing else.

“There was no such thing as Airbnb when they wrote the code for Berlin,” Engelhart said. “Now we’re here, we’re in the 21st century.”

He added that he would work on a recommendation to present to the Town Council, which he added is required in order to augment the code.

Ocean City strengthened its rental license program and Worcester County has been working on instituting one. The Worcester County Commissioners voted Tuesday to set an annual license fee for short-term rental properties, which is considered less than 28 days, to $200 per year. 

The fees would also cover employment for two county staff positions and software costs. 

Additional staff also would have to be considered were Berlin to adopt a more regulatory approach.

“Are we going to prohibit it [in Berlin] or are we going to try and control it with our massive staff?” Engelhart asked commission members.

One possibility, commission member Pete Cosby said, would be to categorize short-term rentals as “conditional uses” for zoning purposes.

A conditional use is a limited zoning approval that is granted providing a property owner meets a specific set of conditions.

 “We want to encourage modernity and people coming to our town,” Cosby said. 

Engelhart said he anticipates having a recommendation ready by early next year.

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