South Lake Tahoe approves new rules for vacation home rentals
By a 4-0 vote, the South Lake Tahoe City Council approved new regulations governing vacation home rentals during another marathon session Tuesday.
The most recent vacation ordinance drew a lot of debate over the past year as the city attempted to address what it called a balancing act for residents and rental applicants alike.
City Manager Nancy Kerry said the new ordinance will provide a more streamlined process for vacation home rental applications.
Councilman Tom Davis recused himself because of his stake in vacation rental ownership.
Vacation rentals have been controversial topic in South Lake Tahoe for years, sparking a number of debates between long-term residents and real estate and tourist agencies about the impacts of vacation rentals on the community.
South Lake Tahoe has 1,735 vacation rentals inside the city limits.
A council subcommittee made up of Austin Sass and Wendy David took a hard look at the issue, including holding meetings with individuals on both sides of the debate.
The city will revisit the ordinance in 12 months to determine whether it has been effective.
At the Tuesday City Council meeting, Sass said the subcommittee considered what other cities have done in order to craft something that fits South Lake Tahoe’s values, as well as property rights and business concerns.
“We understand there will be an impact to the industry because this will change the permitting process,” David said. “We both recognize this is a vibrant industry in our community. We know that VHRs are here to say but we also have residents who live here full time.”
However, she said the city has not proposed a moratorium or limit on vacation home rentals, despite rumors.
The proposed guidelines for new vacation rentals include notifying residents within 300 feet of a property, inspection by the city and a public hearing before the zoning administrator, if someone files a written protest within three days of notification. Kerry called the public hearing a fair addition to the permitting process.
“One of the main things have been missing from the beginning was providing an opportunity for them to weigh in,” Kerry said.
Approval would be based on adherence to California health and safety regulations like smoke/carbon monoxide detectors and emergency lighting, along with a host of newer regulations, including 24-hour local contact information, additional parking for homes with five rooms or more, 12-inch-by-12-inch signs bearing information of the maximum number of residents, contact information for the local owner/manager, the vacation home rental hotline and local law enforcement and fire. A standing weekly hearing to expedite the permit process was also added to the regulations Tuesday.
City staff also put out a request for proposals Friday for a socio-economic study to determine how vacation rentals have impacted the community since a vacation home rental program was initiated in 2003.
“VHR is not a property right it is a license to operate a business in a residential area,” City Attorney Tom Watson said during a presentation on Tuesday. “VHR licenses are reasonable limitations because they do have a impact on neighborhoods other than permanent residents.”
Vacation rental advocates disagreed, including Jim Morris with Lake Tahoe Accommodations.
Morris said an Oregon Supreme Court decision disputed Watson’s assessment of property rights and called the ordinance business unfriendly.
“This plan doesn’t do diddley squat other than give a few neighbors power to say we’ll try and stop this,” Morris said.
Watson, the city attorney, said that an Oregon Supreme Court decision has no binding effect on California jurisdictions.
Some real estate agents asked for the city to wait for the impact study to conclude before making a decision.
“I want to see the study and the mitigation,” said Realtor Jerry Williams. “Wouldn’t you want to see the results first?”
He said the ordinance would be an industry killer, especially if it added up to an additional $10,000 to the price.
Ellen Camacho with the South Tahoe Association of Realtors said her agency agrees with most of the changes, but disagreed on the permitting process.
Camacho asked that the recently approved enforcement changes be given a chance to work before approving the ordinance.
Resident Ed Mosier said the requirements for notification didn’t go far enough. He said notification should extend to 600 feet, and more time should be given for people to respond to it.
Jerry Goodman also said the new regulations don’t go far enough.
“What you are attempting to do is put a Band Aid on the problem,” Goodman said. “Either you vote to change the zoning or enforce the existing law.”
Longtime resident and former Realtor Kathy Andrew called the ordinance weak, said it is a sign that the city was selling itself out once more and is transforming the character of the town.
“We are just wholesale selling our city to the highest bidder,” Andrew said.
Realtor Doug Rosner said it could create an uncertainty in the market. Like others, he wanted clarification and time for enforcement to work.
“What we want is to make sure we aren’t swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” Rosner said.
Kerry, the city manager, said the timeline would include a three-week application process. She added that, in past enforcement, the city had taken a different approach.
Changing the hearing process to a zoning panel would require a change to the city code, something that Mayor Hal Cole called a potentially cumbersome event.
“There was a different direction at the time when staff was directed to give a warning and quiet down,” Kerry said.
Sass said that perhaps different agencies could come together to create a form to address visitor etiquette, something that doesn’t necessarily call for council action.
“We have to be conscious of the changing economy,” Cole said. “But the first question I keep asking are why are we doing this?”
Cole said the regulations are the city’s response to vacation rentals’ impacts on the community. Additionally, the ordinance treats properties individually and removes some uncertainty in the application process.
“If this isn’t acceptable than I don’t think the industry is showing enough consideration for neighborhoods,” Cole said.
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