MARCO ISLAND — More than one year in the making, an ordinance to regulate resort rentals in residential Island neighborhoods is returning to the Planning Board once again.
When board members heard that the draft ordinance was like a boomerang, returning for their review after having been forwarded to City Council earlier this summer, many weren’t too happy about it.
City Council reviewed an ordinance in June that had been recommended by the Planning Board. The draft ordinance limited rentals in residential neighborhoods to no more than one lease every seven days and regulated all leases that were as long as six months.
The ordinance made short-term rental homes in residential neighborhoods legal in the city by right of permit. Renting short term via a permitted use is preferred by some property managers and homeowners because it does not require a public meeting with agreement by neighbors the way conditional use permits would.
City Council decided in June to direct staff to present the pros and cons of both permit types — permitted and conditional — and review them at an upcoming meeting.
Chairman Rob Popoff said if possible he would like the issue to return to council without going to the Planning Board.
However, attorneys for the city since advised that legally both ordinance types needed to have two public hearings before the Planning Board.
The Planning Board had stopped reviewing conditional use, never holding the second public hearing on that version of the draft ordinance. It was a decision that neither Councilman Chuck Kiester, who served as the non-voting chair of the short-term rental committee, nor Planning Board member James Riviere agreed with.
City Manager Steve Thompson announced in a weekly update that the Planning Board review is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m., Aug. 14.
Thompson advised council that rental ordinance options could be a discussed at the July 20 City Council meeting, but that agenda is not yet set.
“I thought we voted to go with permitted and do away with conditional,” said Planning Board member Irv Povlow during a June 26 board meeting.
The only legal problem was that the decision to do away with conditional use was not made during a publicized meeting on that version of the ordinance.
Brian Moss, the new chair of the Planning Board, echoed the sentiments of the City Council and requested the pros and cons of each ordinance to be presented at the next meeting on the issue.
“I’m outraged. We’ve worked our butts on this for 14 months. Council got 14 months of compromises,” said Vince Magee of the Planning Board regarding the return of the issue.
Perspective of a short term rental operator
Kelly Linman, who owns rental properties on the Island, said he’s not pleased with any regulation, but if it’s the only way to solve the noise and trash complaints coming from neighbors, than he prefers permitted use.
“I can manage it effectively. I can follow the rules and it won’t be a problem,” he said.
He does, however, have a problem with the idea of conditional use being reconsidered.
“If complaints come in from one neighbor during application, then it could be denied without ever being given a chance. It’s discretionary. It will become a constant burden like the boat dock variances where so many people were burying staff and the Planning Board with paper work,” Linman said.
He said conditional use will likely have a greater negative effect on property values because lenders will not be able to count on potential rental income.
“Everybody will pay the price of decreased property values,” he said.
Linman also said a 30-day limit would likely solve the problem.
“The complaints have been coming from one week or one weekend rentals. Why does the ordinance regulate homes renting as long as six months? Why snare far more than the limited problem area?” Linman pondered aloud.
Chief Code Compliance Officer Eric Wardle said he didn’t have the answer. He said it may be an issue of politics and economics, and in terms of enforcement or compliance of code, he didn’t take a stance other than to say that most of the problems occurred in situations which were rented for far less than 30 days.
Perspective of a would-be resort renter
One of the voices not often heard in the debate on short term rentals that began on Marco Island a couple years ago is that of the resort renter — well unless your Karen Salvi who said she often heard their voices screeching out from a neighboring pool at odd hours of the evening.
Tom Bowman of Illinois hoped to rent that home next to Salvi. However, after putting a $750 deposit down on the property for a large family vacation in October, Bowman learned the house was no longer available.
Property manager Martin Frimberger has often found this particular home on Newall Terrace at the center of the debates.
His rental agreement appears to address the issues that code enforcement has had with short-term renters including that when large numbers of people stay in a single family residential home together, they need to be related.
“The neighbors will not tolerate excessive noise or traffic,” he writes in all rental agreements, which also includes copies of relevant city codes.
Bowman said he thinks they should get the deposit back because it’s the only property, with seven bedrooms, that could have hosted his family of 12.
Frimberger disagreed because Bowman and daughter Laura Peacock did not return the rental agreement signed in the time frame requested to confirm the arrangement.
Frimberger said he was unhappy with having been referred to as a “house from hell” in previous news reports and didn’t want to share his take on how to solve the Island’s rental problems.
He did say it was never his intent for the people to lose their money, but they didn’t properly secure the home and refused an alternate option which was “super nice” but had two fewer bedrooms.
“The homeowner (Amy Jerde) decided to stop doing vacation rentals at the house because, especially for Newell Terrace, the process was becoming less and less viable: 1. The city was on track to destroy vacation rentals on Marco Island; 2. The neighbor, Karen Salvi, gave no indication of letting up, and 3. The general economic downturn was greatly reducing the income from whatever vacation rentals might survive the city gauntlet,” Frimberger wrote in an e-mail to the reporter.
Bowman said rental problems on Marco could give the whole Island a bad name.
“People will stop coming to Marco Island if they think it’s all slum lords ... We just want our deposit back,” he said.
The issue hasn’t been resolved and Bowman said it will be difficult to pursue a return of his $750 with legal fees likely outweighing the benefits.
If you’ve got one, the Eagle, the Planning Board and City Council would love to hear it. So far, no party seems to be very happy with either proposed ordinance, although the Planning Board and proponents of short-term rentals prefer a permitted use ordinance to solve the problems.
Salvi said neither ordinance are likely to fairly solve problems she once had. One thing Salvi and Linman agree on is that addressing 30 days or less would solve the problem.
Salvi, like Community Development Director Steve Olmsted, interpret city code to currently make short-term rentals illegal on Marco. Salvi said it should remain that way and current codes, which allow homeowners to be responsible for repeated code violations, should be enforced.