Washoe County needs to hear from Incline about STRs (Opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Washoe County needs to hear from Incline about STRs (Opinion)

Judith Miller
Guest column

Communities around Lake Tahoe have recognized that overtourism is a significant threat, not just to our precious lake, but also to residents and visitors alike. Yet the revised Washoe County ordinances developed to regulate STR’s are missing the most important element: Limits.

On Aug. 25 the Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing and likely approve these regulations unless our community can convince them otherwise. A first draft was heard back in February just before the COVID-19 shutdown.

There were 10 public comments supporting STR’s, given by STR owners, property managers, real estate agents and professional lobbyists. I was one of just three residents who traveled to Reno to express our concerns.

Prior to the hearing, local residents had attended community workshops and submitted volumes of materials to the board and staff documenting the problems related to STR’s: not just minor inconveniences, but serious issues like increasing long term rents, declining school enrollment, environmental damage, shortages of workforce housing and medical facilities and lack of infrastructure, including lack of a means to safely evacuate in the event of a fire. And we cannot deny the negative impacts on community character and neighborhood spirit. A community is built on relationships developed over time, not over three days. Nearly all of these issues were largely the result of having just too many STR’s with their much higher than average occupancy. It became clear to these residents that the proposed ordinances would not address their concerns.

And after that Feb. 25 meeting, I had to draw the same conclusion. Many of the provisions that would have countered some of the negative impacts were removed or modified:

1) No unannounced inspections, so if neighbors complain, no one will respond until there is plenty of time to cure the violation. Enforcement will be difficult, if not impossible.

2) No signs containing a permit number or phone number to call if there is a problem.

3) Reduction in the amount of required parking spaces,

4) No prohibition of outdoor speakers.

5) No limit of one STR on a single parcel if there is an approved secondary dwelling unit.

But the single most important element was completely ignored: Limits.

The county held an STR stakeholder meeting last year. I was the only stakeholder representing the interests of our residents. I was not advocating to ban STR’s but to put some limits on their number or location. It was estimated that there were already 1,000 or more STR’s just in Incline Village. The effects were felt long before COVID-19. I suspect that number has decreased somewhat, as second homeowners occupied their former STR operations, but I also suspect many will revert to STR’s once we are more in control of the COVID-19 situation (hopefully sooner rather than later).

The county currently has language in their development code that residential occupancy should be “wholly or primarily non-transient,” indicating that residential areas should not be turned into single family “hotel” districts. But that language will be stricken if the proposed ordinances are approved.

There will be no limit on vacation rentals, even though many other areas have imposed limits of one type or another for years. The city of Las Vegas requires vacation rentals in residential zones rentals to be owner hosted. Additionally, there must be 660 feet between them. Other possibilities include limiting the number of days per year rented, limiting to specific “tourist areas” {like the one in our area plan), limiting to one per parcel, limiting to a percentage of rental housing, or precluding use of secondary dwelling units as STR’s. There are many options.

Another possibility to help businesses would be to encourage off-season tourism/vacation rentals, but limit them in high season.

Other areas (even in Nevada) consider STR’s a business. But our county claims they are not businesses even though our governor called vacation rentals an “essential business” and even though the Las Vegas requires STR’s to apply for a business license in addition to a special use permit.

Attending a meeting in Reno in February was not particularly convenient. But sending an email or making public comment on Zoom is simple.

Please make your concerns known by providing public comment to washoe311@washoecounty.us or on Zoom on Aug. 25. The county’s stated objective of balanced regulation of short term rentals has not been met. Limits would demonstrate that our commissioners do care more about the health, safety and welfare of residents and our visitors than about tax revenue that’s spent elsewhere. Limit STR’s.

Judith Miller is an Incline Village resident.

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