ISLAMORADA COMBATS ILLEGAL VACATION RENTALS WITH NEW TECHNOLOGY

Islamorada Mayor Buddy Pinder and Councilman Mark Gregg converse before a meeting. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

A number of resolutions were up for approval at the Nov. 18 meeting of Islamorada Village Council. One included an agreement for software technology in an effort to better track illegal vacation rentals in the village is among the items up for vote.

On Sept. 2, council members heard from Dustin Reilich, of California’s Deckard Technologies, regarding the software known as Rentalscape. Municipalities across the country that are known to attract visitors lack information on short-term rentals, and with that come difficulties monitoring territory and enforcing ordinances. 

Through Rentalscape, local officials are able to monitor and inspect local rental properties and track down the unregistered ones. According to Reilich, Rentalscape scans over 7 million short-term rentals’ calendar activity each day.

Council members, including Councilman David Webb, verbally expressed support for purchasing access to the application for use by the village’s code compliance officers. He said the use of homes for vacation rentals is rampant in the village. Webb, who lives in Port Antigua, said his community is zoned single-family, or R1. That means renting anywhere from seven to 28 days isn’t allowed. He said he’s seen three-month renters. 

“Our neighborhoods aren’t supposed to be commercial operations,” he said. 

A contract with Rentalscape to provide short-term rental identification and monitoring services would go for one year at a cost of $25,000. Rentalscape will be working closely with the code compliance officers and Village Manager Greg Oravec to configure the application to meet the village’s needs. 

In 2008, licenses issued during the first year of the village’s vacation rental program totaled 164. Today, that number stands at 260, and that doesn’t include the widespread issue of illegal vacation rentals. 

In other business, council members approved an agreement with the Tavernier company, Wood Environmental & Infrastructure Solutions, for data collection and community outreach for culvert work at various canals on Lower Matecumbe Key. Islamorada is moving forward with evaluating and implementing culvert connections at strategic locations in Lower Matecumbe Key at canals 150, 151, 152 and 155. The project will also include the evaluation of adding a culvert connection under U.S. 1 from canal 155 to 157 to provide increased flushing within the canal systems. Costs for the data collection and community outreach wouldn’t exceed $58,928. 

The dais also said ‘yes’ to amendment to an agreement with the social media company Attention Media and owner Carlos Garcia. Specifically, services would extend for 10 months through the remainder of fiscal yer 2021-22 at a cost not to exceed $60,000, or $6,000 a month. Costs associated with the village’s social media outreach program would come out of the village council department’s public relations/advertising account in the general fund. 

Council members also approved an agreement with Holiday Lightscapes Inc., for the installation of decorations throughout the village for the holiday season. Among the places that will see holiday décor areIslamorada welcome sign, the North Plantation Key stop light, Founders Park, Islamorada Village Hall, Hurricane Monument and Craig Key. These areas will be decorated with LED lights, garland, wreaths, interactive selfie features, pole mounted and ground level decorations. 

Installation of decorations would begin Nov. 30 with an expected completion time of five days. An adopted budget allocated $50,000 for holiday decorations. The idea for holiday decorations came from Councilman Henry Rosenthal during his first meeting following the November 2020 election. 

“This is really something that we’ve never seen in Islamorada,” Mayor Buddy Pinder said. “This is going to be a different Christmas. It’s going to be beautiful.”

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.