Tuesday, June 15, 2021

SOLVING THIS PROBLEM TAKES COMPROMISE

More Straight Talk

Marco Island has been dealing with an issue that goes back to its incorporation as a city, but councilors before today, and even today, have struggled with the issue of short-term rentals. It isn’t an easy issue to tackle, and it isn’t just an island issue. During the last legislative session in Tallahassee, it spilled out onto the floors of both legislative chambers.

Do a little research, and you’ll find it isn’t just a Florida issue, but one which seems to jump over state borders in large and small communities and counties.

The Covid-19 Pandemic created an even worse situation, as east coast communities shut down their recreation and business entities to help stem the rise of cases in those communities, exacerbating the impact of short-term rentals here on the island. 

Having been here for 35 years, I cannot recall a worse time for our relatively sleepy community, which over the years has done a good job of balancing the resort nature of the community with its residential flavor.

One of the unfortunate factors that has become a reality lies in the “commercialization” of the short-term rental phenomenon. Now, we find mega companies that have an international, as well as a domestic stranglehold, on what was a simple program of a family doing weekly rentals to folks they knew, and as such protecting the value of their properties.

Now we find a disproportionate number of properties being owned by folks that do not occupy those units. Speculators swooped in over the last several years and acquired properties that are being used for one purpose – to produce profits – while wearing down the fabric of the communities here and around the entire state of Florida, as well as beyond our state’s borders.

In 2009, then City Attorney Alan Gabriel of the law firm Weiss Serota from Fort Lauderdale, advised council that they had a problem, since the use of a single-family home for short term rentals was “neither a permitted use in the RSF zone or in compliance with our Comprehensive Plan.”  During that meeting of council, Gabriel cautioned council that they needed to address the issue.  

These were his words, not mine. However, council kicked that can down the road once again and lacked the vision to deal with it. Yes, the legislature did pass a new state statute in 2011, but that does not supersede our own zoning and land development code, which was in place prior to that.

We need to tone down the rhetoric and start working together to solve this problem. A few years ago, a resolution to the problem was discussed. However, it soon went off the rails when supporters for and against went “nuclear” on each other, and any chance of dealing with the issue in a sound and rational manner did the same.

It is my belief that we need to seek a middle ground, one which might allow the rentals as a “conditional use.” We might require registration of the property, with the property having to be inspected to ensure it meets certain safety codes. We should limit the minimum stay to one week and create a maximum occupancy of a dwelling.

This would require our Tallahassee legislators to get serious about this issue and deal with the problem.  It is not going away and is becoming more serious as each year passes. It was in part caused by the legislation that was passed in 2011. That legislation tied the hands of many communities such as ours to deal with the issue in a proactive and positive manner. Both sides would be giving a little to create a positive atmosphere within our state and protect the quality of life to which many have become accustomed.  

For city leaders to tell homeowners they should go inside their homes and close their doors to remedy a situation which isn’t their fault is wrong. Unfortunately, that is what some have been advised to do.  

We also shouldn’t be reading op-eds by elected officials detailing positions before first hearing from the residents. Otherwise, why waste our time holding sham public hearings, rather than working toward solutions which involve collaborative efforts between two opposing sides maintaining open minds toward finding that important middle ground.


 

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