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West End Hotel continues battle to keep long-term stays legal

By Olivia Albright, Assignment Editor / Web Producer, OAlbright@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 25 2013 09:50:30 PM CST
Allentown zoning hearing board
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The City of Allentown is continuing to pursue a zoning variance claim against the West End Hotel on Chew Street to change their status from hotel to temporary residence because most guests of the hotel stay for over thirty days, a violation of city law.

Rich Smith, the owner of the building, and his attorney, Stephen Shields, argued that the hotel had been used for extended stays for over a hundred years and that this is grounds enough for them to be grandfathered in to zoning laws written between 2000 and 2002 that define hotels as offering stays only less than thirty days.

Daniel K. McCarthy, the chairman of the zoning hearing board, seemed to agree. “You have without a doubt proven that the structure has had the same use for decades,” McCarthy said.

Smith faces $5,000 in annual license fees from the city if the hotel’s status is changed to short-term residences. City law requires payments of $100 per room per year for apartment-style buildings.

According to Smith, the city had been pushing him to apply for a variance to the zoning hearing board for years and when he did not, he was issued a citation. Smith and his lawyer then appealed the citation in court, where it was dismissed because Smith and Shields were able to prove that they had not broken the law. Smith was later sent a $5,000 bill in the mail, which prompted him to begin a dialogue with the zoning hearing board over this past summer.

“This hotel is an important part of the community for people who can’t afford a full apartment for $700 or $900 a month because they are unemployed or they aren’t on welfare so they can pay $400 at the hotel month to month,” Smith said. “Otherwise these people would be homeless.”

Some neighboring residents did voice their dissenting opinions of the building at the zoning hearing board on Monday night.

“Personally, I don’t know what the issue might be here tonight,” Oscar Squire of Chew Street said. “This is a rooming house. I don’t understand why if they are doing everything as far as inspections are up to date then I don’t understand why inspections can’t be set up to make sure that the rooms are maintained and that the building doesn’t become an eyesore.”

According to Smith, the building’s inspections are up to date and there have been no complaints from any guests at the hotel about any safety or health concerns.

Because of McCarthy’s unfamiliarity with the previous hearings about 1327-1331 Chew Street, the board will send Smith their ruling after McCarthy reads the old transcripts and the board makes a ruling.