MARCO ISLAND — A debate about whether an ordinance to govern short-term rentals in residential areas will hurt Marco’s economy is slowing its progress toward passage.
“The economy of this community is somewhat dependent on these types of rentals,” said Planning Board Chairman Marv Needles during a planning meeting Friday.
The Planning Board and a citizens short-term rental committee have worked for more than one year on creating an ordinance to help control the problems associated with a high turnover of renters, who party, violate noise, trash and parking ordinances and leave the Island before they can be held accountable. If they are held accountable, a new group of renters comes into the residential area and does the same thing, making it a perpetual problem.
Community Development Director Steve Olmsted said while it may be open to interpretation, he believes that short-term rentals are not permissible in residential neighborhoods because they can be construed as businesses and may alter the make-up of the single family residential zone.
Thus far, the majority of the planning board and the citizens’ committee disagreed with Olmsted’s interpretation. However the board agreed Friday that bed and breakfasts are not suitable in residential neighborhoods.
“No one wants to live next door to one,” Planning Board member Vince Magee said.
Planning Board member James Riviere and City Councilman Chuck Kiester recommended a 30-day minimum on rentals to minimize the problems.
“The majority of the rentals are not 30 days on these dwellings. It will have a devastating affect on businesses such as restaurants,” Needles countered.
He said he believes when two out of the four towers at South Seas condominiums limited rentals to 30 days or more, he witnessed a direct impact with businesses leaving the Island the same year.
About 2,500 condo units went from allowing weekly rentals to requiring a 30-day minimum rental, he said.
Riviere agreed to some extent but questioned whether all effects would be negative.
“That’s what depressed the prices on the sales. The income potential. I’m having a difficulty reconciling the need for tranquility in the neighborhood. I really question if there would be a severe economic impact,” he said.
“It might even be a boom to the condos if we did enact this. But that’s not my objective.”
Needles said a possible outcome of limiting residential home rentals to 30 days or more might increase hotel occupancies as well.
“We’re here doing this to protect the single family, but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Needles said.
Barbara Johnson, a Realtor with Prudential, said an ordinance governing short-term rentals would hurt an already ailing real estate market and said owners need the rent to pay ever-escalating costs for insurance, taxes and maintenance.
So far, the Planning Board has made no plans, other than to limit rentals in residential neighborhoods to no more than one in a week.
“We have to allow them to make that income. We have more houses on the market now than I ever remember. We are seeing economic stress all over,” Johnson said.
“Don’t cut the speed limit down because one guy goes too fast,” she pleaded.
Johnson also argued that the current 12-page draft ordinance is cumbersome.
The ordinance after Friday’s review, limits rental occupancy to two people per bedroom plus two more people, requires annual registration with a fee not yet set, requires rental agent or owner availability at all times, allows renters and owners to be fined, allows permits to be suspended after three violations occur within two years and requires meeting state fire code guidelines, including proper windows other than the common Deltona windows.
“When I looked at this document I almost gagged. I have to be able to explain this to buyers,” Johnson said.
Resident Jan Sawitoski agreed. “There are enough foreclosures here as it is.”
Planning Board member Monte Lazarus said he agreed with a common assertion that the ordinance is solving the problems of just a few by potentially hurting a lot of people.
“I think it’s using a sledge hammer to kill a flea,” he said.
Resident Karen Salvi attends almost every meeting on the issue and describes her neighboring resort rental as a “hotel from hell next door.”
Other residents, though they say they can’t attend every meeting, have voiced similar concerns.
Resident Dawn Hollowsky said the resort rental neighboring her home is a regular disruption as she and her children get up early to prepare for school.
“I try to put up with it as much as I can. These people are here to party. It’s 2, 3 a.m., I have to get up in a couple of hours,” she said.
There have been 47 different short-term rental property violations in less than one year, reported Planning Board member Irv Povlow.
Lazarus says if the same logic was used against long-term residents, it would pose a problem because three times the number of similar code violations were reported from full-time residential properties in the same time frame.
“We have plenty of places to stay on this Island that are not in single family areas,” Povlow said.
“You guys are thinking about the economy. I don’t think there’s any proof here that it will affect the economy.”
The Planning Board voted to kill an earlier draft of the ordinance, which gave permits based on a conditional use, allowing Olmsted, or the current community development director, and neighbors, discretion when it came to approval.
Riviere, Olmsted and Kiester said they would like the earlier draft to stay on the table.
Planning Board member Bill Sneddon said some guidance might be helpful as he was embarrassed that it was taking so long.
“The combinations of intellects and personalities is refreshing. If you’d been charged with drafting the Declaration of Independence, we’d all have British accents,” joked City Council Vice Chairman Frank Recker.
Council advised working with the city attorney to draft something that would require licensing that steered away from choosing between conditional use and permitted use at their meeting Monday.
A second public meeting on the draft ordinance will be held by the Planning Board 9 a.m., May 29 in the Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.