The 5-3 vote came at the end of a nearly two-hour meeting that included 35 public comments from city residents and 50 minutes of discussion between commissioners, mainly about parking requirements and the age of structures being used for short-term rentals. Angie Johnson, Elise Davis McFarland and Terry Seabrook voted against the measure. Sunday Lempesis was absent.
Wednesday’s meeting was the sixth time the Planning Commission had met on the issue since October when the city’s Short-Term Rental Task Force presented its recommendations after more than a year of discussion.
The Planning Commission vote, which had to be taken twice to avoid a split decision and the failure of the proposal, was pushed along by Mayor John Tecklenburg, who was the first speaker during the public comment period. He implored commissioners to agree on what they could and move the proposed ordinance to City Council.
“I think you’ve got the bones of something the council can deliberate upon … but I just ask you because it’s been long enough,” he said.
The recommendations of Planning Commission are similar to what the Short-Term Rental Task Force recommended at the end of their process, with a few noteworthy differences: the restriction of four adults per short-term rental has been replaced with a two person per bedroom restriction, and short term rental operators might have a third-party run their rental units for 72 days out of the year. A motion by Harry Lesesne to limit the third-party management to 45 days failed 4-4 at Wednesday’s meeting.
The Planning Commission also voted 5-3 to change a 50-year age requirement for structures being used for short-term rentals to a five-year age requirement to try to prevent purpose-built construction. The commission had previously removed the requirement altogether.
“I’d like to see some age limit,” said Charles Karesh, the member of the Planning Commission who proposed the motion. “I think 50 was way up, but five is reasonable.”
Most of the other regulations proposed by the task force, including a requirement that the property owner be on-site overnight, were left intact. A managed short-term rental would not require the manager to be on the property overnight, but would require that the manager be available to public safety or city officials within one hour.
Jacob Lindsey, planning director for the city, said at Wednesday’s meeting that city staff endorses the original recommendations from the Short-Term Rental Task Force, as did many of the speakers at the meeting.
“Our main concerns are the whole house rentals and the 72-day leeway, which would allow a house to be rented anywhere from 24 to 37 weekends a year,” said Phyllis Ewing, president of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association. “We are also concerned if people are plotting the neighborhoods [as] residential neighborhoods, they deserve the benefit of the BAR and the zoning, and we want that kept.”
Some members of the Short-Term Rental Task Force also spoke in favor of the commission approving the task force’s recommendations, including Kristopher King, Christopher Cody and Peggy Malaspina.
Other city residents, such as Ginger Scofield, urged Planning Commission to not be as restrictive as the task force suggested.
“We all can agree that there should be regulations,” she said. “I would even suggest a limit on how many each owner can have. … But I would urge you to be a lot more lenient on the regulations and punish the bad actors. Don’t punish the people like me.”
Despite the back-and forth of both city residents and commission members, commissioner Chris Fraser pressed the commission to vote on the proposal.
“We could sit here all night, but the mayor has asked us to move something forward,” he said. “This is imperfect. It’s going to stay imperfect, and we’re going to have to visit it again, but I move we adopt the ordinance as amended this evening.”
Lindsey said City Council will take up the issue at the Feb. 26 meeting.