STRs continue to polarize neighborhoods

Vacation rentals energize neighborhoods and support families. They are also disruptive, bringing the city’s tourism industry to residents’ doorsteps.

Both sentiments were expressed Tuesday night at the Hot Springs board business meeting, continuing the refrain the board has heard as it has tried to mediate the controversy for more than a year. . He filed an order lowering the annual cap on short-term rentals in areas zoned for residential use after an amendment was introduced making the council part of the appeals process.

The current process drew criticism at last month’s meeting of the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Several residents of a Lake Peninsula subdivision have questioned why the BZA was the venue for their appeal of the special use permit the city issued for a 7,400 square foot home in their Bridgewater Point neighborhood.

The special use permits come from the regulatory regime the council passed last year. They’re required for short-term rentals, or STRs, in residential-use areas, but Bridgewater Point residents said the appeals process doesn’t weigh in on how an STR affects the character of a neighborhood .

Several administrators said making the city council the arbiter of appeals would improve the process. Administrators hear appeals of conditional use permits or variances for land uses that are not granted as of right within a zoning district. The zoning code allows them to consider how a conditional use affects other properties.

District 5 Superintendent Karen Garcia introduced the amendment removing the BZA from the appeals process, but part of the text dealt with the administrative policy for issuing special use permits.

“What was addressed in the motion is an administrative matter,” City Attorney Brian Albright told council. “You cannot change the administrative policy.”

He told the board he could strike the BZA out of the STR regulatory order that the board passed last year.

“It looks like we have enough time on the schedule to table this and bring back an amendment that meets your desires on this and still gives the developers enough time to work until November 1st,” Albright, referring to the publication deadline of 2022 special use permits in original STR ordinance on council agenda.

The order also lowers the annual cap for STR business licenses in residential areas from 500 to 400, starting next year. If there are more than 400 licenses at the start of the year, those that exceed the cap will be eligible for annual renewal. About 300 had been issued by the end of last month.

STR owner Briana Moore suggested the board wait to lower the cap until it knows how many residential licenses will be issued in 2022. She said STRs have helped revitalize the Park Avenue area, making dilapidated and vacant structures habitable again. The Park and Whittington areas have some of the highest concentrations of STRs, according to the city’s GIS map.

“Park Avenue is a different world, and the STRs played a part in that,” she told council, adding that the STRs are in line with the long-term land use plan the council adopted in 2020.

Joseph Kemmer expressed a different view, telling the council that the proliferation of STRs in his neighborhood near the start of the Pullman Trail has brought an ever-changing group of people to the area.

“I didn’t think it was a great situation,” he said. “I want neighbors. We can’t have neighborhood watch if I don’t know who’s in my neighborhood day-to-day. I truly believe this business isn’t helpful in creating a safe and productive neighborhood.”

Moore said the hundreds of tenants she hosts haven’t caused any problems.

“I find that short-term tenants are generally respectful people and they respect people’s properties,” she told the council. “If there’s a host allowing parties, it’s a host issue. They’re someone you need to hold accountable, and you have that process in place.”

Brad Wolken, who lives in the lakeside neighborhood that appealed to the BZA last month, asked the council to give neighborhoods time to add STRs to their list of restrictions.

The owners of a Northshore Drive housing estate invoked their insurance policy to obtain an injunction against an STR in 2016. The 1953 agreement prohibits the use of the lots for commercial purposes. But because it doesn’t expressly ban STRs, the state Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision.

“Any restriction on land use must be clearly apparent in the language of a restrictive covenant,” the High Court wrote in its 2018 opinion.

Wolken said many neighborhoods have outdated restrictions that need updating.

“We need a minimum period of six months to hold these meetings, hire these lawyers, draft documents and file legal documents,” he told the board.

Next month, the council plans to consider an order lowering the residential cap and changing the appeals process.

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