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Hyde Park loses continuing fight against short-term rentals

Monday, October 1, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin’s Planning Commission put a swift end Tuesday night to an attempted end run around new short-term rental regulations that go into effect this Monday.


The commission voted 5-3 to deny a request by the Hyde Park and North Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts (NCCD) to limit non-owner-occupied short-term rentals (aka Type 2 rentals) in the area.


Type 2 short-term rentals, also called “commercial rentals” because they refer to properties that are not owner occupied (like Type 1 units), have been a source of controversy, despite the City Council’s approval in August of the city’s first short-term rental ordinance. Residents of the Hyde Park neighborhoods remain dissatisfied and want to continue to fight the new regulations in spite of two years of public process, including lengthy public input at Planning Commission and City Council.


Hyde Park Contact Team Chairman Karen McGraw explained that Hyde Park and North Hyde Park wanted to disallow Type 2 short-term rentals in multifamily properties and require Type 2 short-term rentals to be located at least 750 feet from each other. The council-approved ordinance places a 3 percent cap on Type 2 rentals by census tract, but no restrictions on short-term rentals based on distance from each other, and allows Type 2 rentals in multifamily properties.


“We worked so hard on our neighborhood plans and did so much fine-tuning, and negotiated with so many people, that we felt like this really should be looked at in that way, more so than just a blanket citywide situation,” McGraw said.


She worried that multifamily dwellings would become “de facto hotels” once owners realized they were more profitable than their current use as affordable housing, and hoped to prevent clustering by instituting distance requirements.


However, Planning and Development Review’s Jerry Rusthoven asked the commission not to OK the amendments, which would create exceptions for two neighborhoods within the city.


“If we were to create a special short-term rental ordinance for just the two Hyde Park NCCDs, I would imagine that the other NCCDs we have in town … would come in, and they would want their own short-term rental ordinance with a slightly different set of regulations,” Rusthoven said. “Then other neighborhoods would want their own NCCDs so they could have their own regulations. I think that we would be bogging (down) the system, with everyone coming in with their own neighborhood-specific set of short-term rental regulations. We would respectfully request that the Planning Commission let the City Council ordinance have a chance to take effect.”


Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez said that he was “somewhat loath to reignite the flames for something that hasn’t really had an opportunity to start working.” He also noted that the ordinance includes a provision that the City Council review the effectiveness of the new regulations within the next year.


McGraw said that her intention was to get the amendment to the Hyde Park neighborhoods’ NCCDs started as soon as possible, hopefully in time to beat a January deadline that will allow new short-term rentals to register with the city. (Currently operating short-term rentals will be able to register starting Monday.)


“If somebody establishes these, they aren’t going to be able to go backwards. They aren’t going to ever make them change them. Once you establish it, you’re there forever,” McGraw told In Fact Daily.  “We have uses that should have been curtailed in 1935 and staff is still grandfathering them, and they do not enforce the things that are out there. So, basically, we’re dead.”


Rusthoven told the commission that if the short-term regulations, on review, were found not to be working, registered short-term rentals would be grandfathered as “legal non-conforming” for as long as they continued their use. The status would be revoked if they lapsed by renting the property for more than 30 days.


McGraw told In Fact Daily every neighborhood with a neighborhood plan could ask for the same thing, as an amendment to their zoning overlay, regardless of whether they had an NCCD in place.


“We worked really hard to come up with the things that we thought would work in our neighborhood. They spent how many years? Three years?” McGraw said, referring to the time it took for the city to enact the short-term rental regulations. “We started our neighborhood plan in 1985 so, let’s see, that’s 20 years… I’m not impressed.”


The three commissioners who voted against the denial of the Hyde Park neighborhoods’ request were: Danette Chimenti, Jean Stevens and Myron Smith. Commissioner Richard Hatfield was absent.

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