Auburn City Council makes decision on short-term rentals

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

The Auburn City Council voted on short-term rental regulations during its meeting on Tuesday. The regulations have been under debate for quite a while, and have been amended twice by the council.

The ordinance:

A homestay, defined by the city, is: “A home occupation in which an individual who owns a dwelling unit and uses it as his or her permanent residence hires out such dwelling, or any portion thereof, as lodging.”

A short-term, non-primary rental, defined by the city, is: “A dwelling unit that is not a permanent residence and that is leased in its entirety to one party for periods of less than 30 consecutive days. The term party as used in this definition shall mean one or more persons who as a single group rent a short-term non-primary rental pursuant to a single reservation and payment.”

Homestays and Short-Term Rentals will be allowed, based upon the ordinance voted on Tuesday, in the following zones:

• Comprehensive Development District (CDD)

• Corridor Redevelopment District-urban, Suburban, Easts and West (CRD-U, CRD-S, CRD-E, CRD-W)

• Medium Density Residential District (MDRD)

• Neighborhood Redevelopment District in the portion east of north Donahue drive (NRD)

• Redevelopment District (RDD)

• Rural District (R)

• Urban Core (UC)

• Urban Neighborhoods – West, East and South (UN-W, UN-E, UN-S)

The regulations imposed on homestays in the ordinance include:

• A homestay can only be used for eating and sleeping.

• If the owner is not present, the homestay cannot operate more than 90 days.

• Food cannot be prepared by the owner for the guests.

• Zoning certificates will begin on Jan. 1 and end on Dec. 31.

• The planning director has the ability and authority to revoke a zoning perfect home occupation if the city receives two or more substantiated complaints.

The regulations imposed on short-term non-primary rentals in the ordinance include:

• A short-term non-primary rental will be allowed to operate for 240 days each year.

• Zoning certificates will begin on Jan. 1 and end on Dec. 31.

• The planning director has the ability and authority to revoke a zoning perfect home occupation if the city receives two or more substantiated complains.

The discussion:

Short-term rental complaints began in 2013, and conversations regarding regulations began four years later, in 2017, said Katie Robison, acting planning director at a previous work session to discuss short term rentals.

Soon after Mayor Ron Anders was elected in October 2018, he formed the short-term rental task force.

The task force created recommendations, which were then approved by the planning commission and brought before the city council on Feb. 16.

The short-term rental ordinance was amended by Ward 3 Council Member Beth Witten during the Feb. 16 council meeting, which prompted the city to re-advertise the ordinance and hold a second public hearing on March 16.

The amended ordinance proposed adding short-term rentals into the Neighborhood Conservation zone, among other changes.

There was significant public input at both council meetings on this topic.

Opposition:     

“The amendment that was offered to the planning commission’s proposed ordinance basically removed the, what I call the cover, for the NC zone from commercialization,” said one resident, Ray Askew. “What concerns me is that when you remove the cover that exists in the ordinance, the current ordinance for the zoning of NC, and for that matter, from my point of view, should cover all family-housing neighborhoods, you remove that cover and you, in essence, have opened a Pandora’s box for any commercialization.”

Jones, who lives on Payne Street, said that she has been renovating a house that her grandparents built in 1940. However, she has been under city restrictions on the work she could do.

She said she understands these restrictions because it is a Neighborhood Conservation Zone.

Long-term rentals do not bother Jones, she said, because they are long-term neighbors.

She referenced a petition of over 500 signatures that has been provided to the council by those who did not want short-term rentals in the neighborhood conservation zone.

“How many people have been willing to indicate in writing that they are an Auburn resident and that they live in a neighborhood conservation area and they are willing to let the short-term rentals in?” she asked.

Support:

Although many opposed short-term rentals, there were those in favor of Witten’s amendment.

Brian Mitchell said he supports short-term rentals, because, for one reason, they help bring revenue to the city.

“We need those people in town spending their money here,” he said. “… Having the ability to keep people in town whether it’s in a multiple-family rated zone, or in an NC-rated neighborhood or LLD or whatever, it’s a short stay. Typically, these people are staying a lot of money to stay in those places. They’re staying in somebody’s home that does not want it trashed.”

William Lowry said that he feels it is against the Auburn spirit to keep people out of certain zones.

“A lot of this is just not hospitable,” he said. “I think the signs up, ‘don’t hotel my neighborhood’ are inhospitable to people that are visiting.”

The vote:

Anders proposed an amendment to the ordinance Tuesday night which returned the regulation back to where it was before Witten’s Feb. 16 amendment. This means that there will not be short-term rentals allowed in Neighborhood Conservation Zones.

Ultimately the ordinance, with its new amendment, was passed 5 to 3, with one council member, Ward 5, Steven Dixon, recusing himself from the vote.

“Over the last several years, and particularly the last four weeks, many of you have spoken and I have tried to listen,” Anders said. “Some of you have reminded me of the months-long discussion held in 1984 when Neighborhood Conservation Districts were created and subsequent promises of elected officials always to protect single family neighborhoods zoned NC. Over the years, [city councils] have adhered to the commitment to protect neighborhood conservation neighborhoods. I appreciate that commitment and pledge to do my best to adhere to it as well.”

Anders said that while he did originally support Witten’s amendment, he decided it was not the best choice moving forward.

Council Members who voted against the ordinance were Witten, (Ward 4) Brett Smith and (Ward 7) Jay Hovey.

Smith said he had a problem supporting the ordinance as a whole, not just because of the NC issue. Similar neighborhoods were being treated differently, he said. They may look the same, but when you crossing a zoning line, some neighborhoods can have short term rentals and others cannot.

“I just want each of you as council members to understand, especially in my ward, if you accept the position that this is a nuisance and this is a problem for some neighborhoods, but you’re going to vote for it in other neighborhoods, you’re treating these like neighborhoods unequal,” he said. “You’re saying one gets preferential treatment, while the other doesn’t. That’s why I could not support the amendment and I can’t support the ordinance.”

There will be a 90-day period, City Manager Megan Crouch said, before any enforcement takes place to fine those running short-term rentals in zones they are no longer allowed in.

Other Business:

• The council approved alcohol beverage licenses for The Hotel at Auburn University and Rob’s Ribs.

• The council approved an application submission for the State of Alabama Community Development Block Grant – CV Program FY 2020 application.

• The council approved a contract with Alabama EMA Division D to adopt the East Alabama Regional Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan: Phase One.

• The Council approved the purchase of a Stivers Ford for the parks and recreation department.

• The council approved Section 108 Loan Authorization for the Auburn Housing Authority.

• The council approved easements for properties by Eastbrook Homes Southern, Inc. and Links Crossing, LLC.

• The council approved board appointments for the East Alabama Mental Health Center Board of Directors, the Auburn Public Library Board and the West Pace Village Improvement District Board of Directors.

• The council established stop signs in the Brentwood Subdivision, Farmville Lakes Subdivision, The Preserve Subdivision, The Wimberly Station Subdivision, Woodward Oaks Subdivision and Owens Crossing.

• The council approved ad valorem property taxes.

• The council approved two annexations.

• The council approved a conditional use approval for a performance residential development at 160 East Veterans Boulevard.

• The council approved a conditional use approval for an institutional use and office use for a building at 945 North Donahue Drive.

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