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Longboat Key Friday, May 22, 2020 2 weeks ago

Longboat vacation rental managers celebrate new ruling

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On Thursday, the state approved Sarasota County's plan that allows businesses to cater again to guests..
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Amy Stewart and her family look forward to their beach vacation every year.

“We usually travel to some beach on the Gulf Coast, whether it's on the Panhandle and the last few years, we’ve really enjoyed going further south and found a love for Longboat Key,” Stewart said.

In June, the Stewarts are still planning to make the drive from their home in Louisville, Ky., to the Beachcomber.

Stewart said she still had some trepidation because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We all do this with caution and try to weigh the positives and the negatives,” Stewart said. “This is basically the only week that we had available as a family collectively to be able to go, so to push it back later in the year was not an option.”

Stewart said the family would use safety measures, like wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or not eating out as frequently as they normally would.

“We like to drive and certainly wouldn't consider flying during these times,” Stewart said.

On Thursday, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation approved Sarasota and Manatee counties’ plans to resume vacation-rental operations effective immediately.

It comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ March 27 executive order that suspended vacation rental operations.

Sand Cay Beach Resort general manager Lyn Sorensen was enthusiastic about the news she could reopen.

“It was like wrapping Christmas, New Year’s [and] your best birthday ever, all in one package,” Sorensen said. “I would say winning the lottery, but that’s really a cliche.”

However, the reopening of vacation rentals come with several restrictions.

Reservations will be allowed only from U.S. states with a COVID-19 case rate of less than 700 cases per 100,000 residents, as of May 18. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data map, this would mean that residents from Louisiana, Michigan, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are not eligible for rental. 

“We can’t accept guests from certain hotspots,” Sorensen said.

Additionally, reservations from international travelers will not be accepted. 

“People are not flying, they are driving,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen expressed concern for how the state is enforcing DeSantis’ executive order that requires people coming to Florida from states like Connecticut, Louisiana New Jersey or New Jersey to quarantine for 14 days.

“So how is that being checked?” Sorensen asked. “We can check it because it’s easy for us. I mean they have to give us a driver’s license and their address.”

Both Sarasota and Manatee counties’ plans also include stipulations for how the rentals should be run. Reservations, check in/check outs, communication with guests and the acceptance of payments must be done electronically to minimize direct contact with guests. 

“The staff has to be out of the unit when a guest is in the unit or vice versa,” Sorensen said.

Property owners and managers must provide CDC resources and Sarasota County COVID-19 information to any guest while staying on the property.

Longboat Key’s town code also forbids short-term rentals of less than 30 days in residentially zoned neighborhoods. The town has grandfathered 46 tourism properties, places that are allowed to have tenants for fewer than 30 days, because they offered tourism uses before the town passed its prohibition in 1995.

Sorensen estimated Sand Cay has lost close to $800,000 since the March 27 closure. Before Thursday’s reopening, the resort could only accept future guests.

“As of about [5 a.m. Friday] the cleaning crews are in unit,” Sorensen said. “People have actually been calling wanting to book. We called a lot of people and told them that we would have the units ready.”

Sorensen said cancellations have “waned off” and that Sand Cay had already booked 10 reservations on Friday morning, which was less than 24 hours after vacation rentals were allowed to reopen.

Stewart said she would contact Beachcomber staff to make sure her family’s June trip is still on track.

“If the Beachcomber doesn't open up, I think we'll try to book somewhere else,” Stewart said. “They have offered us a full refund.”

Stewart remained hopeful for her trip to Longboat Key.

“You go on vacation to relax and it's super easy to relax when you have the ocean in front of you,” Stewart said.

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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