Parking and noise limits should not be part of a short-term vacation rental ordinance. Are renters to be held to a stricter standard than residents and guests? Plus, comments on occupancy limits.
Palm Coast, FL – December 1, 2014 – I object to Flagler County‘s proposed short-term vacation rental ordinance as written. I sympathize with residents who have large mini-hotels next door to their residence. That issue can and should be addressed by a combination of a Flagler County ordinance and Ocean Hammock’s Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CCRs). Separate county ordinances for noise, fireworks and parking should be considered for the remainder of the unincorporated county.
Florida has returned significant oversight of short-term vacation rentals to local governments. Now, Flagler County needs to evaluate the different sections of the county, including Ocean Hammock, to determine what rental related issues need to be addressed at the county level. The proposed ordinance tries to cover the entire unincorporated county, as if it were homogenous. It is not. Even plats within Ocean Hammock are dissimilar.
Let’s forget about the rest of the county for a minute and focus on the Ocean Hammock community. After all, it was Ocean Hammock residents that urged Representative Travis Hutson and Senator John Thrasher to sponsor the recent legislation that returned home rule. They also packed the county legislative chambers during the Planning & Development Board meeting and the Flagler Board of County Commissioners first reading of the draft ordinance.
Those Ocean Hammock residents who are lobbying in favor of the proposed ordinance advance the argument that Ocean Hammock is a residential community. But Ocean Hammock was clearly marketed as a resort community offering an active lifestyle. It’s really a collection of separately platted communities permitted by a development order for single-family homes, condominiums and lifestyle amenities. The single-family residential homes in parcels A-5 and B-5 surround ten multi-story condominiums.
Neither the Development Order for Ocean Hammock nor the community documents placed restrictions on rentals, allowing nightly rentals for either homes or condominiums. Only 52.4% of the homes in Ocean Hammock are homesteaded, compared to 67.7% of the homes in Hammock Dunes.
For the years before 2011 when the state preempted local jurisdiction, short term rentals in Ocean Hammock were common. Ironically, if a rental control rules had been put in place prior to 2011,Ocean Hammock would have been exempted from preemption. But there was no cry for a solution at the time because no problem seemed to exist.
After preemption (and still during the Great Recession) investors capitalized on the legislatively created vacuum. Some swept in to rescue distressed properties, buying them cheaply and fixing them up to be marketed as rentals. In some cases, they converted space in the rehabilitated homes to create additional bedrooms. If these modifications were done according to current building codes and permitting requirements, it was perfectly legal. Reportedly, some modifications were done surreptitiously.
Some began building large, multi-bedroom homes creating, in effect, mini-hotels to be used for short-term vacation rentals. These structures were approved at the time by both the Ocean Hammock Architectural Review Board and permitted by Flagler County.
Suddenly, there was a problem. Ocean Hammock residents began to complain about long check-in lines at the security gates, excess noise, late night parties, fireworks, excess traffic and out-of-control parking. And it seemed that the problems would only get worse as investors submitted plans for additional large multi-bedroom homes.
Enter Hutson and Thrasher. Through their efforts, preemption has been largely reversed? What should the Flagler County do next? The short-term vacation rental issues that should properly be addressed in a county ordinance revolve primarily around issues of health, safety and bed and sales tax compliance. As for the rest, if the county needs a noise ordinance, it should pass one. The same is true for parking and fireworks. The county should not wrap these solutions within an ordinance addressing rentals.
Ocean Hammock is currently embroiled in litigation challenging recent amendments to Ocean Hammock community documents and the refusal of the architectural review board to approve any further large multi-bedroom homes. The new rules include stricter parking regulations too. But the county should not be pressured into including noise and parking constraints in a county-wide rental ordinance simply because Ocean Hammock has its hands tied by ongoing litigation.
A properly crafted rental ordinance, combined with code enforcement, should address the bedroom conversion issue. Each home would be registered and certified for a specific number of overnight guests based on the number of “legitimate” bedrooms, or perhaps using a formula that considered the number of bedrooms combined with the number of baths. In areas of the county without public sewer services, septic capacity should be a factor too. The ordinance should prohibit advertising a rental home for occupancy that exceeds the structure’s certified occupancy. Registration and certification will facilitate tax compliance as well.
The Board of County Commissiners (BOCC) should be mindfu that an overly restrictiveordinance would expose the county to legal challenges. This is especially true regarding occupancy. The BOCC should also be mindful of the impact of tourism to our local economy.
I’m told that the Senate Bill reversing preemption was only a few pages long. Those making changes to the county’s proposed short-term vacation rental ordinance should take notice. Imagine what fun social networking would have over an ordinance with 68 ‘Whereas’ clauses. Flagler County might earn mention on the Dave Letterman show.