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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 1, 2021 8 months ago

Island residents push for adoption of vacation rental rules

Next week, the city will consider implementing additional regulations for rental homes on Lido and St. Armands keys.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Ahead of the City Commission’s April 6 meeting, where officials will consider new regulations for large vacation rentals in residential areas on Sarasota’s barrier islands, Chris Goglia thinks the stakes are clear.

“We feel if action doesn’t happen, the city can say goodbye to its Lido and St. Armands neighborhoods,” Goglia said.

As president of the St. Armands Residents Association, Goglia has been a leading voice pushing for the city to take steps to better control vacation rental properties in barrier island neighborhoods. The association’s advocacy work dates back to 2019, when St. Armands residents began to take aim at a specific problem: large homes built to house up to 25 visitors.

The group dubbed these properties “hotel houses,” alleging that the homes essentially function as hotels, bringing commercial activity to a residentially zoned property.

City Attorney Robert Fournier has developed a series of regulations designed to address the concerns residents have raised. Under the terms of the proposed ordinance, the city would establish a maximum occupancy of 10 individuals for vacation rental homes in single-family districts on the barrier islands and a maximum of 12 for multifamily housing districts. The ordinance would also require the owners of those homes to register their property with the city annually.

If adopted, occupancy limits would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022, with a two-year phase-in gradually lowering the maximum occupancy from 16 to 10.

Goglia said he’s happy with the ordinance the city has put together for consideration. He said residents are increasingly anxious about the prospect of vacation rentals proliferating in island neighborhoods. The association has identified one ownership group with a portfolio of at least 20 homes on Lido and St. Armands keys.

“I think passage of this ordinance begins a process,” Goglia said. “It doesn’t magically solve the problem all at once, but it begins a process by which this problem can be solved.”

Some residents on Lido Key and St. Armands Key have posted lawn signs encouraging the city to adopt new regulations designed to cap capacity at vacation rental homes on the barrier islands.

In February, the last time the City Commission discussed potential rules for vacation rentals in residential areas, the board received some testimony opposing registration requirements and other regulations from owners of rental properties. Deborah Mackiewicz is the owner of two beach cottages on Whittier Drive on Lido Key, which she rents through the website VRBO. Whittier said she understood and shared the frustration about tear-downs and rule violations from large rental properties, but she said she believed the city’s ordinance would create an unnecessary burden.

Although a majority of the City Commission previously said it supported new regulations for large rental properties, the board was split on the best approach for addressing residents’ concerns. Mayor Hagen Brody expressed some skepticism about the efficacy of property registration and regular inspections, two provisions that are included in the updated ordinance the commission will consider April 6.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch was a strong proponent of adopting new regulations, stating other communities in the area and across the country have recognized the need to manage vacation rental properties to protect the character of residential areas.

Goglia emphasized a similar point, stating the city is not doing anything novel. He said residents and officials both looked to other jurisdictions, including Anna Maria, to determine precedent and best practices. Goglia said he’s happy with the final product the commission will review. He’s hopeful officials will feel the same need for action that he does.

“A lot of people out here are being hurt from these [properties], and almost all of us think the neighborhoods are being hurt from these,” Goglia said.

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