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Commissioners continue to study issues surrounding short-term rentals

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Another meeting on short-term rental guidelines left city staff members with an additional two full pages of questions on the proposed ordinance that various city departments will have to answer.


The second meeting of the Planning Commission’s Codes & Ordinances Committee to discuss a draft proposal for short-term rentals went just about like the first, with plenty of questions and commissioners insisting that legal staff would add more specificity to broader language. At the end of the meeting, planner Robert Heil said it might be September before a more specific draft, minus ordinance language, is back at committee.


“What we’re trying to do here is express our intent to explore something, but we need legal staff to shape this for us and to use the proper terminology,” Commissioner Saundra Kirk said at one point. At another point, Chair Mandy Dealey cut off the discussion, in a polite fashion, saying that she had hoped for a more global 1,000-foot viewpoint rather than a re-hashing of a bunch of questions that seemed “in the weeds.”


Among other points, homeowners wanted the assurance that this process actually mattered, given the fact that the Board of Adjustment had chosen, on its own, to define short-term rentals in the interim. Commission Chair Dave Sullivan assured the group that weeks of discussion were not for naught. The Planning Commission did intend to create explicit direction for an area that simply did not exist, or appeared to be ambiguous, in the current code.


“Regardless of the code interpretation, regardless of the BOA, we are trying to craft something that is not ambiguous,” Sullivan told the group of homeowners in a crowded City Hall meeting room. “We are taking ambiguity and trying to clear up that ambiguity and make it explicit.”


Questions and concerns ranged from those who feared their neighbors would use the ordinance to retaliate against them to those who found it difficult to toggle between the definitions when a granny flat might be used as both a short-term rental and a long-term lease property. Others questioned the parameters around grandfathering current short-term rentals and whether the land use category should be overlaid over multi-family properties as well as single-family dwelling units. And the definition of short-term rental use was still at issue, with some concerned the language might still be confused with other types of special event uses.


During the discussion, Dealey frequently told the homeowner the question would have to be referred on to legal staff for clarification, and Heil faithfully took down copious notes to refer on to various city departments.


Concerns over short-term rentals arose out of the Allandale neighborhood, and many of the neighbors on hand last night still appeared to have lingering doubts about the effectiveness of the ordinance.


The problem is that regulating the short-term rental market is difficult when it can range from renting out your garage apartment for SXSW to an actual full-scale business intended to address, say, short-term corporate relocations. Major cities such as New York City and San Francisco have attempted to outlaw short-term rentals, yet Craigslist is still flush with numerous offers of all sorts of short-term rental space.


Privately, some have expressed concerns that the ordinance may be difficult to implement and enforce, while others have questioned exactly what problem the new restrictions were intended to address. If the problem were noise and traffic in residential neighborhoods, then current city ordinances already applied. If the problem were city tax collections, then the mere registration of rentals should be sufficient.


A third issue raised was about simply having too many short-term rentals on a single street or in a single neighborhood. The ordinance does attempt to address this area by proposing 1,000-foot buffers between more non-owner occupied short-term rentals. This regulation, for intense rental uses, would mirror the existing guidelines on the books for bed-and-breakfast establishments.

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