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Subcommittee finishes work on proposed short term rental regulations

Monday, October 24, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

A Planning Commission subcommittee has tightened up the language in a short-term rental proposal one more time before sending it off to the legal department for drafting an ordinance the full commission will consider.


Commissioner Danette Chimenti guided stakeholders one more time through some of the staff questions on the ordinance. The group overruled a staff suggestion that short-term rental guidelines be incorporated into the single-family zoning category. Instead, the group has suggested that short-term rentals be considered a use not unlike similar bed and breakfast rentals.


“Staff came back and commented on our draft,” Chimenti said of the process. “We had to go back and say and really confirm, yes, this is what we intended it to be. We do want short-term rentals to be a use.”


The general framework for the process, set out in previous drafts, is generally the same. The goal of the stakeholder group was to “lighten up” on owner-occupied homestead rentals and “tighten up” on owner-absent commercial short-term rentals, which—if the ordinance is adopted—require conditional use permits.


The committee has raised the bar on commercial short term rentals in deference to the comprehensive plan, which is encouraging density in the inner city. Stakeholders consider short-term rentals to be in conflict with those goals, especially in high demand neighborhoods such as Zilker or Travis Heights.


“We don’t want neighborhoods where we have more short-term rentals than homes, especially when we have a comprehensive plan that is dictating more density in the inner city neighborhoods,” Chimenti said, adding that conditional use permits allow the city to keep an eye the proliferation of STR units.


Guidelines are intended to cover single family, and not multi family, properties. All short-term rentals, of either the homestead or non-homestead variety, must be registered with the city. Registration will include a tax ID, proof of property insurance and local emergency contact number.


All rentals must pay hotel occupancy taxes, adhere to dwelling code occupancy limits, and an emergency contact must be reachable. Those who rent would have to be informed of all limitations, include prohibitions of large gatherings, parking restrictions and limits on amplified sound.


The restrictions on gatherings were intended to be reasonable for the renter and not particularly onerous or excessive, commissioners agreed.


“You rented a house, and you want to have Thanksgiving there or a family gathering,” Commissioner Mandy Dealey agreed, in a discussion with those in attendance. “It’s not the size. It’s the scale and character of the event.”


The plans includes homesteads where the owner offers limited or periodic rentals. Fees, in this case, would be nominal and intended to cover the cost to the city to monitor the program. The range of fees is $25 to $50 annually.


The commission is not trying to end short-term rentals, especially for those who make an income with some limited short-term rentals.


“This is not intended to shut them down, by any means,” Dealey said.


However, more intensive commercial short-term rentals, which are considered non-owner occupied or investment rentals, would be subject to greater scrutiny, including a $250 site fee license. That’s up from an initial proposal of $100. Owners of multiple properties would pay $250 annually for each site.


The conditional use permit will be used to make sure such rentals are at least 1,000 feet apart from each other. Existing rentals would be grandfathered under the system if the owner could provide property of hotel tax payments.


Commercial STRs would be required to go through an initial safety inspection and provide on-site parking. That safety inspection has not been defined, but commissioners agreed it was intended to be “reasonable.”


A license can be revoked if three or more citations are issued on the property in a year. Under those circumstances, the owner would not be allowed to reapply for the use of a short-term rental for an additional year.


Under the proposal, owners of commercial STRs would be encouraged to join homeowner associations and to inform their neighbors within a block of their activity.


The proposal will now go to the legal department for drafting. The city’s financial department also will do an analysis of the fees to determine whether they are reasonable and will cover the city’s costs to administer the program. The proposed ordinance will then go back to the full Planning Commission for review.

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