The recent flare-up of issues regarding how to deal with rental housing issues on the island is not new to islanders or its various governmental agencies, such as the city’s Planning Board or the City Council. They have existed for decades and an appropriate resolution to those challenges has alluded city leadership since cityhood.
In 2007, an eleven-person Ad-Hoc Rental Housing Committee was formed to review the issues and consider how they should be dealt with. That committee consisted of real estate professionals, chamber members and citizens. The group was chaired by former Councilman Chuck Keister, who was a non-voting member of the committee.
After months of hearings and debate, their recommendations went to the city’s Planning Board, who would again hold months of hearings and discussions before sending a report to the city council. After much debate and concerns regarding the creation of a bureaucratic nightmare, the council in 2009 referred it back to staff where it would sit.
In 2012, after an election which would see many of the incumbents removed and four new councilors seated, another review of rentals was taken. Over the next 2 years, a considerable amount of discussion was held regarding the nagging issue of how to deal with the challenges of rentals.
The debate began in earnest in 2014 over how to deal with regulating the process. Homeownership was divided into three types of owners. The first being those that lived here either fulltime or as seasonal owners which had no interest in renting their homes. The second group of owners were identified as those approaching retirement but would seasonally rent to cover their expenses of ownership until they could live here fulltime or seasonally themselves. The last grouping were investors who were interested in the appreciation of values and income from rentals.
This time the Council dealt with how to “regulate” vacation rentals, while never taking up the issue of whether they were in fact allowed in the RSF Zone (Residential Single Family), which presently only allows single-family homes, regulated family care facilities or public parks and open space.
Conditional uses in the RSF included churches and houses of worship, schools, public and private and a guest house under certain restrictive covenants, but in no case could they be rented in a commercial endeavor. Short term vacation rentals are allowed within the RT Zoning District (Residential Tourist).
Numerous meetings and public hearings were held on the subject. One of the most contentious issues became whether or not to include condominiums. That provision was added at the last moment and the Council voted to require registration of all residential rental units.
That triggered the creation of a political action committee in June of 2015 and a petition drive to have the issue placed on a mail-in ballot for a referendum vote. That committee was well on its way to acquiring the requisite number of signatures to make that a reality.
There are three options regarding the debate on the referendum
- The petitioner’s committee could withdraw the petition for the referendum vote.
- The city could repeal the ordinance.
- The referendum could go forward, and those results be certified.
At the October 2015 meeting of the Council, and on the urging of Councilors Robert Brown and Ken Honecker, a vote to repeal the ordinance would be taken due to the divisive nature of the debate. Councilors Honig and Rios opposed the vote to repeal the ordinance, instead of asking that it go to a referendum vote. Both Honig and Rios felt confident the ordinance would have been repealed by that vote by the public.
Others felt it would be best to put the contentious issue to rest so the Council could move forward on more pressing issues. The vote to repeal the ordinance passed by a 4-3 vote. Councilors Brown, Honecker, Sacher and Petricca voted to repeal and Councilors Honig, Rios and Batte opposed.
During this time, it was citizen Howard Reed who became a vocal opponent of the proposed ordinance. Reed owned some rental property on the island and felt the legislation was too far-reaching. In 2016, Reed ran for election to the Council, partially on a platform that promised he would bring forward a “reasonable” rental ordinance. Reed, Charlotte Roman, Jared Grifoni and Councilor Honig were all elected during that 2016 election.
During her time as a Planning Board Member, Councilor Roman had brought forward a 5-point plan to enact what she saw was a simpler Rental Ordinance during the city’s debate over how to proceed with the challenges facing the community. Her plan would have enacted restrictions on noise, parking, trash issues and occupancy concerns. Those discussions and suggestions were never discussed when she was elevated to a council position.
Both Reed and Roman chose not to seek a second 4-year term in office. Councilor Grifoni has had little or any input on the rental subject during his first term in office but will be seeking a second 4-year term in November.
No other sitting councilor is seeking re-election. Councilors Brechnitz and Rios have 2 years left on their terms and Councilor Folley was the only person filing for the 2-year seat to fill out former Councilman Sam Young’s term.
No such legislation was ever drafted or attempts made to deal with the issue of short-term vacation rentals in single-family home neighborhoods by any councilors these last 4 years.
At the August 17 council meeting, a great deal of discussion was held regarding the unhappiness of citizens dealing with problematic issues surrounding rentals in single-family neighborhoods. Noise, parking and trash are just some of those items they have concerns over.
The Council asked the city staff and manager to attempt to review the issue and come back with suggestions.