A Patton Township couple got bad news Tuesday. The State College Zoning Hearing Board rendered its decision on Craig and Susan Stout’s appeal of a zoning officer’s decision.
The four-person board said the Stouts have been operating a tourist house in an area where that isn’t allowed.
The Stouts own two houses in the Highlands neighborhood of State College, one on Walnut Street and one on Prospect Avenue. They bought the properties planning to flip them, but after repairs were made, the market took a turn, leaving them with houses they couldn’t sell.
In a town where every football weekend and graduation packs hotels for miles in every direction, the solution presented itself in the form of short-term rentals.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Craig Stout said.
Neighbors, however, say tourist homes cause problems. Janet Engeman lives two doors away from one of the houses, and she doesn’t like what it does to the area.
“You never know from one day to the next who is going to be in that house,” she said. One week, it might be a couple in town for a concert event or a conference. The next weekend, it could become an impromptu fraternity with student-aged partiers.
Engeman’s problems have been mainly noise-related, but, she said, she knows others who have been verbally accosted by tenants.
That’s why the board rendered its decision, based on a July 8 hearing on the matter. They denied the Stouts’ appeal, upholding the finding of the zoning officer, who said the homes were clearly tourist houses, which are allowed in some areas of town, but not in that area.
Some of the issues came down to questions such as how long a stay makes a guest “transient” and whether the definition of a tourist home is specific enough to make a distinction when “football houses” — resident-occupied dwellings rented out for a weekend — are not restricted by zoning. But it appeared the crux of the argument came down to just one word: offer.
The board looked at the fact that the homes were offered for rent. The Stouts, they said, listed the property on HomeAway.com, with a minimum stay of two nights, for up to eight to 10 people.
For people like Engeman, that offering means that, whether the house is occupied by tenants or not, the advertising makes it always available, “like having a hotel” next door.
But the Stouts see the ruling as just one more step along the way. They know they aren’t the only homeowners in their position in the borough, although the hearing board said there are not other similar cases pending.
The couple have not given up and said they will move their case to the county level, and may lengthen the number of nights the homes are rented to avoid the appearance of “transience.”
“This is just part of the process,” Craig Stout said.