Council ponders options for regulating Airbnb business
Sue is a recent retiree who is willing to rent a room in her house to a guest.
For $85 a night, guests can stay in a “very large” bedroom with access to a private bathroom. For an Ohio State fan coming see the Buckeyes square off against the Scarlet Knights this October, an $85 fee seems like a bargain compared to the usually $120 plus per night charged by local hotels.
Sue’s house isn’t a hotel, though. She gets her guests through Airbnb, a California-based company that is a match-making company for travelers who want to find a cozy place to stay in someone’s private home. Like other municipalities’ elected officials around New Jersey and across the United States, Highland Park Borough Council officials are unsure what sort of oversight is appropriate.
“If there are homes that are going to be renting out to people, shouldn’t they be up to health code?” said Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler at the Sept. 1, 2015, meeting. “We don’t want people to come in and getting violently ill in Highland Park.”
“There are no state regulations yet,” Borough Attorney Ed Schmierer told council members. “There are some bills pending, but nothing’s going to happen yet.”
It’s not an entirely idle question. There are four households in Highland Park willing to rent space, even the entire residence, to guests from out of town. For major events like the face-off between Ohio State and Rutgers on Oct. 24, visitors to the area may be looking for a place to stay that is cheaper than area hotels.
“It’s a relatively new phenomenon, like Uber cars,” said Mr. Schmierer. “The law hasn’t really caught up with regulating these.”
Other municipalities already have instituted taxes on Airbnb arrangements. Jersey City Council members in April approved a law that subjects Airbnb lodgings to the same six percent hotel tax collected from traditional hotels.
Marlene and Sam – a pair of Highland Park residents who have been part of the Airbnb network since August 2014 – offer to rent rooms in their house for $425 a week or $1,100 a month, complete with WiFi and the option of homemade meals.
They describe their neighborhood as: “Quiet, tree-lined street within walking distance to area restaurants, shops, houses of worship and public transportation. Rutgers University and NJ transit train to NYC are within walking distance or 5 minute bus/car ride.”
The web site does not identify any of its users by their complete names, nor does it provide their contact information to other users.
Mayor proposes fundraising initiative “Parkstock”
Hearkening to the cultural event “Woodstock,” Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler proposed that the town consider hosting “Parkstock,” a spring (probably May) music festival in Highland Park that would benefit needy residents, especially the children.
Mayor Brill Miller said this year she became particularly aware of the increasing number of fundraisers for residents of all ages with a variety of needs. “How are we going to help people in Highland Park who need help, especially young ones?”
Her solution: Parkstock, an event that would feature all-day music by local musicians, to raise money for programs like the summer camp, which are now being supported by a range of fund-raising initiatives. Anyone interested in this concept should reach out to the mayor.
Vendors welcome at Highland Park’s annual arts festival – Arts in the Park
It’s not too late to be a vendor at the annual Arts in the Park street fair.
The 11th annual Arts in the Park will come to the Highland Park downtown on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The arts festival, renowned throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania for high quality visual and performing artists, attracts thousands people, who enjoy the arts, entertainment and food. Main Street Highland Park, which organizes the arts fair, already has a record number of vendors registered, said Main Street Executive Director Rebecca Hersh. New vendors may register by emailing Ms. Hersh at firstname.lastname@example.org
Arts in the Park features a juried art show, in addition to live music and other entertainment, and booths highlighting local businesses and organizations. The art show features seven categories: painting; sculpture; photography; fine crafts; “green” art, made of repurposed materials; graphics, drawing and printmaking; and mixed media. Participants display and sell their work along Raritan Avenue.
Recreation Department is looking for volunteer soccer coaches
With fall sports registration now under way, the Highland Park Recreation Department is looking for interested parents to volunteer their time to coach the youth teams. Borough Councilman Gary Potts assured would-be coaches at a recent council meeting that the Recreation Department would provide coach training absolutely free.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Andrea Costas-Baay, recreation coordinator at email@example.com or at (732) 819-0052 during regular business hours.
Borough Hall resumes regular office hours
Summer is coming to an end, and with it comes the demise of summer office hours.
Beginning Thursday, Sept. 8, 2015, municipal offices will resume their regular hours. All offices in Borough Hall will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
Workers at the Police Department and the Department of Public Works are unaffected by the summer hours schedule changes.
Borough officials still have a vision for teen center
Borough officials have grand ideas for a teen center, if only they can get a building.
The Borough Council on Sept. 1, 2015, introduced an amendment to an old bond ordinance to allow the administration to buy a specific piece of property for use as a teen center. The ordinance as originally passed authorized funding for a property purchase that the borough had not yet identified; the amendment would authorize buying a property at 203 S. Sixth Ave – a property that is in foreclosure..
“It’s a great location,” said Council President Susan Welkovits. “It’s right here. It’s the center of town and it’s just down the road from the high school.”
The amendment does not increase the total dollar amount permitted in the bond ordinance.
“Right now we’re looking at a center modeled after New Brunswick’s HUB Teen Center,” said Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler. “There’d be all kinds of activities, including the arts.”
The structure already on the property would not be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buying the property would cost $199,000; knocking it down and replacing it with a prefabricated structure would cost an additional $80,000 — assuming the borough even is able to purchase the property, Borough Administrator Kathleen Kovach has said.
“At this time, it’s a long shot for us to get the property, but we’re going to try,” said Ms. Kovach.
The proposed teen center would be for youth between 13 and 18 years old, and would target teens who do not attend afterschool activities held at the high school, either because of interest or because they do not attend the school. There are no afterschool programs for teenagers at Highland Park Library.