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Vacation home rentals, beach access debated

Griffin Rogers
griffin@tahoedailytribune.com

Dealing with noisy vacation home rental guests and access to a controversial Lake Tahoe beach were popular items of discussion at the South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting Tuesday.

First up was the issue of vacation home rentals, a subject in which Police Chief Brian Uhler presented three primary concerns: Noise, trash and parking.

“The noise issue is by far the most significant issue that we see as it relates to VHRs,” Uhler said of some of the 1,544 vacation rentals within the city.

Noise complaints are often related to loud parties, people talking outside, people talking in hot tubs, loud music and an excessive number of guests at the home, he said.

But trash and parking can also be problematic when garbage is left outside for days on end or an excessive number of cars are parked alongside the road.

Uhler said with regards to VHR complaints, all calls are responded to — though some are done so faster than others, depending on how busy police are.

From January through September of this year, police responded to 158 calls for “music or party” disturbance at vacation rentals, compared to 468 calls for the same complaint at private residences and commercial properties.

In other words, vacation rentals accounted for about 25 percent of the total number of noise complaints during that period.

“To compare (with that number of) 1,544 VHRs we have a total of about 9,900 total residents in this city, so the total number of VHRs is much smaller than the 25 percent represented by the total number of complaints,” Uhler said.

The majority of complaints are in the Heavenly Village area.

Uhler presented several options the city council could take to help reduce the number of complaints, including changing wording in the code so the law is more clear and enforceable, limiting the number of guests per residence (currently, an 8 bedroom home allows 20 guests), requiring neighborhood specific permit parking, limiting hot tub usage hours to no later than 10 p.m., adding enforcement staff and writing citations to both visitors and owners.

Several members of the public spoke to the council following Uhler’s presentation. Some said the current code works the way it is and that a few bad apples are giving the rest a bad rap, while others claimed that change and better enforcement is necessary.

Mayor Hal Cole said enforcement of the existing code is mandatory and that additional enforcement staff could help in that regard.

He also suggested the use of a sliding scale for determining enforcement fees based on the number of people in a vacation rental — a concept that seemed to be supported by Cole’s fellow councilmembers.

“First of all I do believe there is a problem,” he said. “I feel there are a lot more violations that occur than are actually reported. And maybe that’s just anecdotal, but I hear it a lot in my conversations with community members. And I think one major violation in a neighborhood is one too many if that makes sense.”

Cole said he anticipates the topic will come back to the council with some potential code amendments for discussion, along with the possibility of hiring new personnel.

It is expected the council will revisit the issue in January or February.

Access at Connolly Beach:

Another hot topic of discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting focused on an area of Lake Tahoe shoreline known as Connolly Beach, located behind the Beach Retreat & Lodge at 3411 Lake Tahoe Blvd.

The issues centered on public access to the beach and the availability of 18 public parking spaces, which Urbana Realty Advisors LLC, the current owners of the property, are required to provide.

The city has a shaky history with the property, dating back to an 11-year-long lawsuit started by the land’s former owners in 1974. The lawsuit was over public access.

City Attorney Tom Watson discussed this and more with the city councilmembers, saying a presentation was needed to clear up some confusion about what’s going on at the property.

At least one councilmember — Councilwoman JoAnn Conner — commented that she has heard word of public access to the parking spaces being impeded. Public comments made later in the meeting also echoed something similar.

City Associate Planner Judy Finn said access was indeed “constrained” during the summer due to construction on the property and a nearby erosion control project, though it also hindered residents on Balbijou Road.

The property is constructing a new conference center, and beach parking should be available again along Balbijou Road when work is finished in spring.

Brandon Reed, the recently appointed general manager for the Beach Retreat & Lodge, said he wanted to clarify that the business has no intention of disputing the fact that the public has access to the beach — in fact, it wants the public there.

“The perception is that we took away their public space, and the perception is that we don’t want them there, but that’s just not true,” Reed said.

Both sides indicated additional steps should probably be taken in clarifying where beach access and public parking is in the area, through signs or other markings.

The discussion ended with the council agreeing to do what it can now and come back to the issue at a future date.


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