Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2011 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers and the Pelican Press. Check back each day for a reprinting — along with any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED APRIL 7, 2011
An under-the-radar bill working its way through the Florida Legislature would allow construction of hotels and motels in any area zoned “residential.”
It would strip local government’s power to regulate or stop such construction in residential neighborhoods. Cities and counties all over Florida are mobilizing to stop House Bill 883. Among them are Orlando, Miami Beach and Sarasota County. A companion bill in the Florida Senate is called SB 476.
Former Venice City Council member Sue Lang spotted the bill because her city had been taken to court over a motel zoning issue. She alerted Siesta Key’s Lourdes Ramirez, past president of the Siesta Key Association, who in turn tipped County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
The bill’s key provision is as follows: “Notwithstanding any local law, ordinance or regulation, a vacation rental,” as described in Florida State Statute 5089.242(1)(c), “is deemed residential property and may not be prohibited or treated differently than other residential property based solely on its classification, use or occupancy.”
In simple terms, it means a motel or hotel can be built in any residentially zoned area. Further, it means regulation of short-term rentals of condominiums could not be regulated by city or county ordinance.
A memo from Sarasota County Attorney Alan Roddy to county lobbyist Marsha Hosack said the bill “is clearly intended to pre-empt local codes that may attempt to regulate ‘vacation rentals,’ which even appears to include ‘transient accommodations’ (any units rented for less than 30 days). Aside from a general problem with any pre-emption of the county’s legislative prerogatives, this amendment appears to invalidate portions of the county’s zoning regulation designed to control overnight rentals (and even motels and hotels) in otherwise residential areas.”
When appraised of the bill on March 29, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to send a letter opposing HB 883 and SB 476 to Rep. Doug Holder, head of the local legislative delegation.
“The bills could also lead to the creation of circumstances where anyone in a single-family development could rent rooms out in their house and compete with motels, as well as create other issues undesirable in residential areas,” the letter said.
“The [Florida Association of Counties] was not aware of this,” said Patterson, who is the commission chairwoman.
County Administrator Jim Ley said he’d informed the local city managers.
The House bill was filed by Rep. Abby Horner (R-Kissimmee). The Senate bill was filed by Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker). If approved, the legislation would become effective July 1.
UPDATE: Legislators were able to make sure the new state law grandfathered in any existing county regulations. Therefore, Sarasota County’s short-term rental regulations did not change.