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Date of Issue: February 18, 2009

Commission holds firm on resort rental rule

Holmes Beach city commissioners decided last week not to lessen a restriction on short-term rentals in low-density residential districts from 30 days to seven days.

The consensus came during a lengthy work session Feb. 10 at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens and Commissioners John Monetti, Pat Morton and Pat Geyer agreed. Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who had urged the commission to reconsider the rule, was absent from the meeting.

The city amended the short-term rental rule in its R-1, low-density residential areas about two years ago, changing the restriction for rentals from a minimum of seven days to a minimum of 30 days. The city offered a 10-year grace period to phase out legal weekly rentals, and did not eliminate weekly rentals allowed in other zoning districts.

Last fall, with U.S. foreclosures on the rise and stock prices on the decline, several real estate professionals and Zaccagnino asked the commission to reconsider.

A discussion was delayed until the new year, when seasonal residents returned to the Island, said Haas-Martens.

In late January, commissioners heard from residents and business people on both sides of the issue.

Commissioners heard again from residents and business people last week, as well as from city planning consultant Bill Brisson, who offered a compromise that some found appealing but that the commission eventually rejected.

There are pockets of R-1 zoning around Holmes Beach, including two neighborhoods along the Gulf of Mexico and a block on the city’s south end, but the bulk of R-1 is from 66th Street north to the city limits and east of Marina Drive.

Brisson said the commission could create a new land-use category and designate certain R-1 areas along the Gulf as “low-density residential-resort.” Weekly rentals could be allowed there, he said.

Another option, Brisson said, would be to adopt language that said resort housing in the R-1 district could be permitted if the property is located west of Gulf Drive and “not more than 800 feet east of the erosion-control line or mean-high water line if there is no ECL.”

The planner said the coastal properties “would presumably be areas where people want to stay.”

After Brisson spoke and commissioners discussed the options, Haas-Martens asked the 20 people seated in the commission chamber, “Now that we’ve discussed this at length, is everybody out there happy?”

One loud “no” was shouted from the back of the chamber.

Residents and businesspeople next shared their views, with a majority opposing a relaxed rule.

“You’re giving away our business,” Ken Gerry of White Sands Beach Resort, which operates as a motel, said, asking the commission not to relax the rule.

He emphasized all the expenses that resort owners must pay and regulations they must comply with to legally operate in the state.

People who rent out their homes to vacationers do not have to follow the same hotel/motel rules, Gerry said. And, he stressed, often do not follow the regulations that are mandated.

Gerry also said short-term rentals in low-density residential neighborhoods diminish the quality of life for full-time residents.

Resident and business-owner Sean Murphy also opposed a change in the rule. He said if the commission allowed more weekly rentals, it was essentially creating more hotel rooms, which jeopardizes hotel/motel owners.

Murphy also said he valued the city’s full-time residents and “sense of community.”

Jeff Gerry of White Sands said that when the city enacted the 30-day rule for R-1 properties, it offered a “sunset provision” and created an opportunity for people to sell investment homes if they could not afford them.

“It was just greed that kept them in,” he said. “They had a door and an exit plan.”

Don Schroder of Re/Max Gulfstream Realty, who asked the commission to reconsider the rental policy last year, repeated his request last week.

Schroder said that the restriction placed hardship on property owners, who might have purchased a second home with plans to make some money, but eventually to retire on the Island.

“You are taking away that opportunity from those people,” he said. “You are not here to take money away.”

Schroder and several others suggested another poll or survey of citizens.

Commissioners, with the close of public comment, shared their reluctance to change the rule.

Morton said simply, “Keep it R-1.”

Monetti said the city must protect the core neighborhoods.

Geyer, acknowledging the many times the issue has come up, said, “I say let’s leave it like it is.”

“I think we really need to,” Haas-Martens said.

Theirs was a decision that met with city attorney Patricia Petruff’s approval.

“We have been through this issue numerous times,” she said. “At some point, people do need to take responsibility for what they purchased.… Zoning is not a new thing.”

Brisson also said that while he offered the options, he was not recommending a change.

“When you have weekly rentals,” he said, “you can’t have a neighborhood watch.”

Brisson also said a neighborhood can reach a point where it loses its residential character.

He cited statistics indicating that in 2005, just 25 properties zoned R-1 carried rental licenses. “There aren’t that many,” he said, acknowledging that some properties might be rented without the required licenses.

The next commission meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24.

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