After fielding comments from both vacation-rental-property owners and concerned neighbors, City Manager Roger Hernstadt advised that proposed changes on the table hope to satisfy those in both sides of the argument.
“With some of you having served on the Code Enforcement board before coming to the council, you know excuse number one is always ‘I didn’t know or I don’t remember’,” Hernstadt said. “Now there will be no excuse.”
City Planner Stacy Charlton listed four primary changes to the ordinance Tuesday evening during the regularly scheduled council meeting. Those included:
• Adding a requirement that rental agents as well as property owners obtain a vacation rental license.
• Add a requirement that property owners and rental agents attend a vacation rental course.
• Clarify standards for the operation of a vacation rental.
• Simplify and clarify standards for code compliance under the ordinance.
Charlton said staff has been discussing concerns from both sides since May, and the one of the biggest challenges in the past has been difficulty enacting the enforcement section of the ordinance.
Other sticking points about parking and additional visitors at the properties were raised during the Citizens Comments portion of the meeting, but the most pivotal change in the ordinance will be to place the guidelines in the regular code of ordinances instead of the city’s Land Development Regulations. Any future changes to the ordinance would be carried out more expeditiously than awaiting approval from the state Department of Community Affairs.
One owner said that since renting his property beginning in 1996, he’s dutifully obtained every license that was required to operate his business, but he felt the proposed fees were too steep in an already fledgling economy.
“My numbers are already off 30 percent,” said Herb Gautreaux. “This is not the time to be adding greater burden.”
Attorney John Herin clarified that since this was the first reading of the proposed ordinance changes, a fee schedule, based on the feedback from the community and council, would be included in the second reading prior to enactment.
Council watchdog Alan Morris said though he appreciated the input from half a dozen speakers, the reason the issue was put on the docket is that changes are needed due to “ramifications of what vacation rentals have done to our neighborhoods.”
“With the majority of vacation rentals, you never have a problem,” added councilman Rich Keating, “but a few bad eggs are ruining it for everybody.”
Councilman Mike Cinque requested clarification on the “three strikes and you’re out” clause that would remove a property from the rental pool for five years after three violations.
Under the proposed change, three citations and three appearances before the code board would be followed by an opportunity for a property owner to make a final plea before the council.
“People have to have due process,” Cinque said. “I agree we need some changes as we have had problems. Vacation rentals are part of our local economy, but neighboring property owners have a right to enjoy their homes, too.”
Hernstadt concluded that there will always be new vacation rental property owners, “who come to town and not know exactly what to do,” but hopefully, with the additional requirement of a free course on DVD made available periodically will help everyone stay on top of regulations.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance changes in its first reading.
In other business:
• Council approved plans to move forward with paving the west side of 53rd Street next to Publix to ease parking issues and pedestrian safety concerns.
“It’s technically a shoulder extension/bike lane, not a pedestrian sidewalk,” said public works manager Carlos Solis. “We have a limited budget, and if we called it a pedestrian sidewalk, we’d have to install a curb and paint. It will look like the extension along Sombrero Boulevard.”
• The contractor scheduled to spread additional sand at Coco Plum and Sombrero beaches has asked for an extension of his work permit until 9 pm. The work is scheduled to begin shortly and last for approximately three weeks.
Vice Mayor Dick Ramsay asked council to direct staff to draft and distribute a letter notifying neighboring properties of the temporary inconvenience.