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Planning Commission weighs in on STR regs

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

With a cry of “stop it now,” there was a moment during the Planning Commission’s Tuesday night meeting when it looked like commissioners would push to immediately eliminate Type 2 short-term rentals in residential areas. Eventually, that suggestion gave way to a more measured one, but commissioners still managed to get their point across: Short-term rentals that are not owner-occupied should be eliminated in Austin’s neighborhoods.

The plea to “admit failure” and hasten a Type 2 STR ban came from Commissioner Jean Stevens, who explained, “It’s become very apparent that we have this issue that is out-of-hand, and that we continue to try and put the genie back into the bottle by putting more and more regulations on it that we don’t seem to be able to enforce. Rather than take up any more time, since this has been discussed ad nauseam… Let’s just stop it, and stop it now.”

Though she had some support, in the end, commissioners voted unanimously to recommend to City Council that Type 2 rentals be phased out in residential areas entirely by 2020 and that it forgo revisiting the issue in 2017 as was planned after a moratorium was implemented last month.

Commissioners also approved, with some changes, staff’s recommendation that the 500-foot buffer between Type 2 rentals be increased to 1,000 feet. They also recommended that proposed occupancy language be cleaned up to allow a maximum of eight adults per site and six adults per STR license on any property.

The commission further recommended that a variance process be created that could raise those occupancy rates, with the stipulation that variances could not be used to allow Type 2 rentals in residential areas.

It was evident that some, if not all, of the commissioners had begun to see the seemingly endless crafting of regulations for Type 2 rentals as a lost cause.

Commissioner Tom Nuckols said the proposed regulations had turned into a “Gordian knot” and suggested it was time to just cut through it.

“We’ve spent way too much time looking at this. If we implement all this stuff, it’s going to require an army of code enforcers to enforce it, and that is going to cost a lot of money – money that I think is better spent elsewhere,” said Nuckols. “The cost to Austinites of having Type 2’s and dealing with them and regulating them adequately is huge. The benefit to Austinites … is very low. It is primarily an amenity for tourists.”

“Type 2’s are a failed experiment,” said Nuckols.

Commissioner Jose Vela said that after weighing public testimony and emails, and despite being a proponent of neighborhoods that contain a mix of uses, he had concluded that Type 2 STRs were not appropriate in residential areas.

“It’s just not an appropriate or compatible use. From a larger planning perspective, we have to go in that direction,” said Vela. “Why not let someone run a restaurant out of their kitchen? To me it’s not compatible.”

During the public testimony portion of the meeting, short-term rental opponents emphasized the need to remove the occupancy provision that specifically limits the number of unrelated adults, which they said rendered the limits “unenforceable.” They were backed up by Marcus Elliot, assistant division manager with the Austin Code Department.

“That’s been our biggest challenge since we started this – proving over-occupancy – and it was complicated by adding ‘unrelated.’ … To leave that in is going to put us back where we were when we started in 2012,” said Elliot.

Elliot also singled out the “test the waters” provision currently in city code as problematic. That provision allows short-term rental owners to advertise their properties without being licensed in order to gauge interest. It has also made enforcing the Short-Term Rental Ordinance rather difficult.

During its Tuesday morning work session, Council discussed separating the controversial aspects of the proposed amendments from those that had a general consensus. If that plan is realized, Council will take up the less contentious items Thursday and then catch up with the others in late January at the earliest, in the interest of efficiency.

Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson was absent from the meeting.

This story has been corrected to remove the phrase “He pointed out that the cost and effort of regulating” that was inadvertently published.

Photo by Elvert Barnes made available through a Creative Commons license.

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