Residential motel ordinance passed despite some protest |

Residential motel ordinance passed despite some protest

Jack Barnwell

South Lake Tahoe City Council finalized an ordinance to regulate residential and long-term stay motels in the city limits on Tuesday, despite objection from owners.

The new ordinance, which goes into effect in July, requires all motels that have single room occupancy units (SRO) to register each room with the city and pay an annual inspection fee.

The cost for the initial permit fee is $80 per unit and $80 annually. The fee would be collected in the annual business and professional taxes.

The fee matches the city’s multi-family dwelling inspection fee.

The new ordinance also details how many people can stay in a unit depending on square footage, requires a bar sink, a microwave and refrigerator. The city removed past provisions, including parking space requirements, a full kitchen and laundry facilities

The units must also have sufficient electrical capacity for the refrigerator and microwave. The long-term units retain their Tourist Accommodation Unit status under Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) guidelines.

Approximately 1,300 of the 5,000 hotel rooms in South Lake Tahoe act as residential units. Ted Long, an attorney and former city council member, told the city council the rooms served more than 3,000 people.

“We all want safe and sanitary living,” Long said. However, he stressed the ordinance needs to be refined and some items clarified. “It has the potential to close many of these establishments,” Long said. Those concerns include improvements if an inspection warrants it.

Long said some motels that have national contracts, like Motel 6, to house construction workers could also be impacted. “There is a reality of running and operating these affordable housing units,” Long said. On top of other fees and expenses, the new ordinance puts additional burden on business owners that could be passed on to the renters. “These are places that are a contribution to our community’s responsibility to provide affordable housing,” Long said. He asked for as much as 60 days so stakeholders could work with the city to refine the ordinance.

Yves Stilmant, property manager at Stateline Lodge, said the Americans with Disability (ADA) requirements were vague. He asked how many ADA-compliant rooms per property were required.

“I really do believe there needs to be safety and regulation, but it should be on a case-by-case basis,” Stilmant said. “We just need more time to make sure it can be done right.”

Stilmant added that if he had to retrofit a unit, it would require him to relocate tenants, something he couldn’t do if he didn’t have an additional available unit. Dave Walker, the city’s building inspector, said any ADA improvements were typically 20-percent of the costs for alterations to units, per state law. If nothing improvements had been made before 1992, nothing was required.

James House, who said he was speaking on behalf of tenants, said many people he talked to were scared and uncertain of how the new ordinance would affect them.

“They’re thrilled the city is taking this step to improve the quality of their lives, but the speed you are asking the owners to do it in is not fair,” House said. “You are just going to hurt the people who live there if you push this a little too fast.”

Shawna Brekke-Read, the city’s development services director, said the ordinance allows property owners up to 60 days to file the initial permit and up to 12 months to make any required modifications after an inspection.

Brekke-Read also said the city has conducted extensive outreach, including one April 22 workshop at the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center. Many of the people there were hotel owners or managers.

The city can also grant an extension if progress has been made in the requirements. Most of the council members agreed the matter had already been discussed and debated for the past four years.

Councilwoman JoAnn Conner, who helped shape the ordinance, pointed out the ordinance has already been watered down. “We’ve reduced this to the bare minimum,” Conner said. “They should have most of these things.” Conner said this ordinance is meant to focus on the tenants who deserve safe and sanitary living conditions. She added properties that meet all the requirements or have flexibility with the new ordinance have nothing to worry about, but those that might be another subject. “I realize that there are a lot of people out there that own them, but in order to ensure the health and safety issue we need to move on this,” Conner said. “I don’t see the situation getting that much better. It’s been a long time coming.”

Councilman Austin Sass agreed, noting the potential for electrical fires because of inadequate wiring. “You have to be naive that this isn’t a fire waiting to happen,” Sass said.

Only Councilman Tom Davis agreed more time should be granted to craft an ordinance that was inclusive of everything. “I think we have time to do this right so we can be inclusive,” Davis said. “We all sit up here without making that input and I think that will be critical.”

The council approved the ordinance in a 4-1 vote with Davis dissenting. A second vote to approve the fee schedule passed 4-0, with Davis abstaining.

Long said the city has missed the point, especially when taking into consideration the tenants who might be affected.

“The problem is, no has ever talked to these people,” Long said.

Councilwoman Wendy David disagreed prior to voting. “I don’t want the public or community to think that we didn’t include this population,” David said.

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