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Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Special Meeting

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January 22, 2013
Chair Melanie Mindlin called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street.

Commissioners Present:   Staff Present:
Michael Dawkins
Richard Kaplan
Debbie Miller
Melanie Mindlin
  Bill Molnar, Community Development Director
Amy Gunter, Assistant Planner
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor
Absent Members:   Council Liaison:
Troy J. Brown, Jr.   Mike Morris
Community Development Director Bill Molnar announced the City Council will conduct their annual goal setting on Saturday, January 26, 2013, and mentioned the Council will take up the Housing Needs Analysis again at their February Study Session.
No one came forward to speak.
A.      Approval of Findings for PA-2012-01511, Transportation System Plan Update.
Commissioners Miller/Kaplan m/s to approve the Findings for PA-2012-01511. Voice Vote: all AYES. Motion passed 4-0.
A.    Potential Code Amendments Related to the Establishment and Operation of Short-Term Vacation Home Rentals.
Community Development Director Bill Molnar presented this item for discussion and explained that short term rentals are only allowed in R-2 and R-3 zones with a conditional use permit (CUP) and in Ashland are primarily Bed & Breakfast establishments. He provided some history on Ashland’s travelers accommodation ordinance and explained as part of the City’s code compliance efforts staff has noticed a dramatic increase in the number of homes being rented out on a short term basis that are operating without permits. He added either they are located in an R-2 or R-3 zone and have not gone through the CUP approval process, or they are located in an R-1 zone where short term rentals are prohibited. Mr. Molnar explained after the City sent out compliance request notices to property owners operating illegal rentals, a citizen approached the City Council and asked them to look into potential changes, and Council directed staff to bring this forward at a future meeting. At the City Council’s August 2012 Study Session, the Council determined the most appropriate avenue was for the Planning Commission to review the travelers accommodation ordinance and put forth suggestions on what to do, if anything.
Mr. Molnar reviewed a number of considerations for the Commission to consider, including the protection of neighborhood character and potential impacts on Ashland’s housing supply and affordability. He also presented some potential benefits to providing more flexibility, including the collection of the City’s transient occupancy tax, business license revenue, and an increased choice for visitors. Mr. Molnar called attention to the discussion questions outlined in the packet materials and suggested the Commission work through each item. He clarified if the Commission is interested in increasing opportunities for these types of rentals and allowing them throughout the multi-family zone, approximately 600 properties would become eligible.
Questions of Staff
Assistant City Planner Amy Gunter commented briefly on the special use permits and minor conditional use permits utilized by other jurisdictions. She also provided some detail on the types of complaints being reported to the City of Ashland. She explained most of the complaints are related to noise and traffic, but reminded the Commission that the Community Development Department is only informed of land use complaints and other compliance issues are handled by the Police Department. Ms. Gunter stated in the past two years the Community Development Department has received approximately 20 complaints related to illegal vacation rentals, but stated the Police Department may have received more. Comment was made questioning if there is a way to differentiate the number of complaints for vacation rentals compared to long-term rental units. Ms. Gunter clarified general complaints are directed to the Police Department and Community Development staff does not hear about them unless the complainant files a code compliance complaint form.
Comment was made questioning the purpose of the 200 ft. from an arterial street requirement. Mr. Molnar stated when this was added to the code the idea was that visitors should not generate a lot of non-local traffic on neighborhood streets, and to try to keep these types of establishments closer to the higher traffic infrastructure.
Mr. Molnar pointed out the Housing Commission would be discussing this topic at their meeting this week, and stated staff is interested to hear their thoughts on potential impacts to housing. He noted the concern regarding loss of long term housing stock, and clarified the Comprehensive Plan states that permitted uses should not disrupt the character of a neighborhood and a discretionary approval process should be used to determine if they are appropriate. He also noted Ashland’s position in the Regional Problem Solving Plan to accommodate future growth within the current urban growth boundary. 
Public Input
Donnan Runkel/586 East Main/Stated she is the owner of Anne Hathaway’s Bed and Breakfast. Ms. Runkel explained many of their long time guests are choosing illegal vacation rentals over them because it costs less. She stated many of these units have not gone through the required inspections, do not carry the necessary insurance, do not collect the City’s lodging tax, and do not report the income they receive. She added licensed rentals also have to pay commercial utility rates for water, sewage and electricity. Ms. Runkel stated there should be a level playing field for everyone in the lodging industry and the City’s travelers accommodation rules should be enforced. She added it gives everyone in the industry a black eye when someone operating an illegal rental does not deliver on their promises.
Lois Van Aken/140 Central/Stated she is the owner of Central Avenue Cottages. Ms. Van Aken stated there are two issues before them; one is the code and regulations as they exist right now, and the other is whether the City wants to look at changing the code. She stated the owners of Ashland’s legal accommodations encourage the City to enforce the laws in existence today; and if they want to look into changing rules that is fine, but they have been dealing with an unlevel playing field for a long time. She stated legal units have higher utility rates, are required to hold a valid business license and collect the required taxes, but visitors don’t know the difference and often choose the lower cost rental.
Barbara Hetland/985 East Main/Stated she has a studio apartment above her garage and went through the City’s approval process this summer to get a conditional use permit. Ms. Hetland stated it was a fair process and it pains her to find out there are unpermitted travel accommodations in Ashland. She stated these illegal units are not collecting taxes and are cheating the City, and she is also concerned that these units are not carrying the proper insurance. Ms. Hetland stated the City’s approval process for these types of units is fair, and asked that the rules be enforced.
Mark Schoenleber/60 Wimer/Stated he is the owner of two legal rental cottages and noted there are over 100 units listed on the VRBO website. He mentioned the inspections legal units are required to go through and also commented on the potential to allow units beyond 200 ft. of an arterial street. He stated his units comply with the CUP requirements for parking, but parking is still a huge issue in their neighborhood and asked the Commission to consider this. Mr. Schoenleber voiced agreement with the other issues that have already been pointed out and stated he would like to see compliance.
Tracy Egan/111 North Third/Stated she is the owner of the Black Swan Inn and also manages Second Street Cottages. Ms. Egan stated she is a legal operator and complies with all the City’s requirements. She remarked that a prospective guest recently called her and asked whether her establishment charged Ashland’s lodging tax, and when she replied “Yes” the guest was no longer interested in staying there. She stated this has become a competitive advantage for those operating illegally and asked the City to enforce the laws that are already on the books. Ms. Egan also discouraged the City from opening this up to the R-1 zone, and questioned why they would expand this to other areas when they can’t enforce it in the allowed zones. 
Commission Discussion/Deliberations
Commissioner Mindlin thanked the audience for coming and encouraging the City to enforce its laws, but clarified the Planning Commission does not have a role in dealing with compliance issues. She stated the task before them is to review the ordinance and make recommendations to the City Council about potential code changes.
Commissioner Dawkins stated he has given this issue a great deal of thought and is very concerned with the narrative in the staff report about the amount of money a property owner can make renting out their unit short term versus long term. He stated it is logical to assume that if they loosen the requirements, this will become an investment tool for people to come in and buy up land and homes for this use. Dawkins stated the City’s travelers accommodation ordinance has been successful and does not support expanding this use to the R-1 zone. He stated having a level playing field in the lodging industry is critical and suggested limiting the number of permitted short term rentals in the same way the City has limited drive-up windows.
Commissioner Kaplan agreed with Mindlin that enforcement is not under the Commission’s purview, but as a citizen he encouraged the city administrator to enact a level playing field so that health and safety is protected. Kaplan stated he did not realize this was such a potentially significant problem in Ashland and believes it is appropriate to look at the code language and determine if it still makes sense.  He stated the 200 ft. from an arterial requirement, whether units need to be owner occupied, the requirement for units to be at least 20 years old, and whether to permit this use in the R-1 zone are all valid issues that deserve discussion.
Commissioner Miller noted the difference between renting out a room or two in your home, and a home that is purchased by an absentee owner purely for investment purposes and turned into a year round vacation rental. Because of this, she is supportive of the requirement for the property owner or business manager on remain on site.
Mr. Molnar was asked to elaborate on the Community Development Department’s code compliance program. He explained the department no longer has a dedicated code compliance specialist and staff’s efforts are focused on working with property owners to reach compliance. He stated typically after a phone call, several letters, and a warning of a fine people usually comply; but staff has found that in the cases of illegal rentals, our efforts have not been effective.
Commissioner Mindlin recommended the Commission work through the discussion questions as outlined in the packet:
Question #1: Should changes to the Land Use Ordinance be considered that provide more opportunity for property owners to operate vacation home rentals?
There was general consensus supporting the review of potential changes to the land use ordinance.

Question #2a: Should the area eligible for establishing a vacation home rental be increased to include all land within Ashland’s multi-family zoning districts?
Mr. Molnar clarified this would make 600 properties eligible for short term vacation home rentals. Several commissioners voiced support for removing the 200 ft. from an arterial or collector street requirement. Commissioner Dawkins stated he would support allowing short term rentals in all of the multi-family zone only if they placed a limit on the total number of units permitted and included a provision that this be revisited at a later date.
Question #2b: Should a property owner/business owner/manager be required to live on site in the case of a property where only one, individual vacation rental is in operation?
Commissioner Dawkins stated the reality is that most of these property owners do not live on site. Commissioner Kaplan voiced support for removing the live on site requirement if it is one unit, but would want a requirement for the property manager’s contact information to be posted. Commissioner Miller was hesitant to this change. She stated she has concerns about the impact on the neighbors and questioned what would happen if a major problem occurred and there was no one on site to address it. Mr. Molnar clarified the Commission could consider language similar to what other cities use requiring that contact information be posted on site and distributed to neighbors, and for the contact to live within a certain proximity to the rental. Commissioner Mindlin voiced support for not requiring a property owner on site for individual vacation homes.
Question #3: Should vacation home rentals be allowed in single family zoning districts (R-1)?
There was no interest expressed by the Commission in expanding this use to the R-1 zone.
Question #4: Should establishing a vacation home rental be subject to a land use application, such as a conditional use permit, with public notice provided to surrounding neighbors?
Mr. Molnar stated staff believes that a conditional use permit is the appropriate process to use and the Commission agreed.  
The Commission briefly discussed the 20 year old housing stock requirement. Commission Dawkins commented that the intent was to preserve Ashland’s wonderful Victorian homes and sees no reason to remove this requirement. Ms. Gunter clarified the vast majority of homes in the R-2 and R-3 zones are at least 20 years old, and the Commission agreed this is a good safeguard to keep in place.
Mr. Molnar clarified staff would summarize the Commission’s recommendations and bring this back at the next meeting for final approval before it is forwarded to the City Council.
Meeting adjourned at 8:55 p.m.

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