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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 10 months ago

No decision on hotel house ordinance

Despite outspoken support from barrier island residents, city officials wanted more time to revise new rules governing vacation rentals in residential areas.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The City Commission failed to reach a consensus on addressing issues associated with large vacation rentals in residential areas, postponing action on a proposed ordinance.

The board voted 3-2 Tuesday to suspend its conversation regarding new regulations for those rental properties. Commissioners directed the city attorney’s office to use input gathered Tuesday to revise the draft ordinance discussed at the meeting. City Attorney Robert Fournier said he could bring the issue back as soon as the week of March 15.

After months of lobbying from residents on St. Armands Key and Lido Key, the city directed Fournier to craft an ordinance designed to mitigate problems attributed to large homes in barrier island neighborhoods used as vacation rentals — properties the residents referred to as “hotel houses.” People living on the islands argued the short-term rental properties, some marketed as sleeping more than 20 people, represented an improper commercial intrusion into residential areas. They raised concerns about noise, parking, waste collection and more.

Fournier’s proposed ordinance was a package of regulations for rental homes, including a requirement to register vacation rental sites with the city if a host is not occupying the property in question. The ordinance would also establish a maximum occupancy of 10 individuals at any home used as a vacation rental, though that regulation would be phased in over eight years for properties that are currently operating lawfully.

During more than three hours of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, a majority of the board expressed support for advancing some regulations, but opinions differed on the optimal approach. Building on input from some renters of vacation homes, Mayor Hagen Brody said he wanted to be sure that regulations would adequately address concerns, which largely centered on noise. He expressed skepticism about whether a registration requirement or annual inspections were the best mechanisms for the city to pursue. 

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch disagreed with Brody, stating she did not think it was adequate to lean on more general noise and traffic regulations. She said she would like to see the city pursue more aggressive regulations, including expanding the scope of the ordinance into multifamily-zoned properties, lowering the occupancy limit to eight people and adding rules limiting the ability to construct homes with six or more bedrooms.

“This is not the mom and pop; this is not the properly-run vacation rental,” Ahearn-Koch said about the target of the proposed regulations. “This is about hotel houses that are destroying communities around the state.”

Although Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Liz Alpert supported advancing the proposed ordinance, the rest of the commission voted to revisit the discussion. Brody acknowledged residents’ desire to take swift action, but he expressed optimism that additional deliberation would result in a better outcome.

“It doesn’t make sense to go through all this at great expense and staff time to not solve the issue,” Brody said.

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