There were many issues raised during the public comment portion, triggering County Manager Craig Coffey to suggest that staff had a lot of work to do to make this a good ordinance.
Palm Coast, FL – November 3, 2014 – The Flagler Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) today considered the adoption of an Ordinance amending the land Development code to provide standards for short-term vacation rentals. This was the first reading of the legislative item drafted by county staff and recommended only five days ago by the Planning & Development Board. If the BOCC voted affirmatively today, a second reading of the ordinance was scheduled for November 17, 2014.
The Ordinance moved forward with four affirmative votes and one abstention. Commissioner Barbara Revels abstained “out of an abundance of caution” because she had performed work in the past as a building contractor for some of the interested parties.
During public comment, several points were raised. The “one size fits all” approach of the ordinance, as written, presents problems. Many of the problems stem from ill-conceived assumptions. For example, the draft ordinance sets an occupancy cap of eight persons (including day guests), based on average Flagler County family size, with no regard to the square footage or number of bedrooms of the subject home. Yet vacation renters are often comprised of extended families.
The ordinance does not grandfather the existing occupancy cap of two per bedroom plus two more. Under that rule, a six bedroom home could be occupied by 14 persons (6 X 2 = 12 plus 2 = 14). Under the proposed ordinance, an owner of a six bedroom home could only rent to a party of eight. Those already owning a large home would not be able to cover their costs with only eight occupants. One audience participant brushed that argument aside by saying that the owners could simply raise their rental price. Respectfully, that comment was made with a complete lack of business knowledge.
Another problem exists because an individual who rents their home occasionally to help defray carrying costs is characterized the same as the person who rents solely as a business proposition all year. The burden of compliance is the same for both, forcing occasional renters to endure higher compliance related costs, to operate under the radar without oversight, to quit renting or sell their homes.
The requirement for a land line telephone and the requirement for a rental agent need to be revisited. Both are impractical, as written, and based on poor assumptions.
Staff and Commissioners had a difficult time defining what they were trying to control. Coffey discussed the one a year Thanksgiving dinner, where a atypical residential house would naturally be packed with extended family. Then he pondered, “How would you like to live next door to a house that had Thanksgiving dinner every day of the year. He described that type of activity as transient group occupancy. He said it “is all about frequency and occurrence.” Better be careful, Craig, controlling frequency and term are still preempted by the state.
Most of the complaints heard from the numerous Hammock residents during the public comment section were about noise, traffic, parking, garbage, bad behavior, etc. When asked if it was typical for gated or private communities governed by Community Development Districts (CDD), Property Owners Associations (POA) and Home Owners Associations (HOA) to have jurisdiction over these issues, Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed dodged the question, saying only that CDDs did not have that power. The answer he should have given was “Yes for HOAs and POAs, but no for CDDs” The point is that the items most complained about are items which are governed by association documents. It should be up to the association, not the county to enforce them.
But this is a countywide ordinance, at least for the unincorporated parts of the county. Outside of gated communities, the county is responsible for control of these items. A one size fits all ordinance will not work, especially if it tries to control every aspect of rental; life and safety issues, parking, noise, occupancy, rental management, etc.
The BOCC did the right thing to move the process forward. I have no problem with an ordinance that regulates short-term rentals. Registration and/or certification will help ensure that life and safety issues are addressed and that bed taxes and sales taxes are collected and remitted. The county should not try to do the POA’s or HOA’s job controlling parking, traffic and noise.
Coffey did the right thing too when he told the BOCC that at the November 17th meeting, he would request a continuance with date certain. He acknowledged that staff had a lot of work yet to do and that they needed to evaluate input from stakeholders on all sides of the issue.
I offer three cautions:
- The Burt Harris Act is powerful. Make certain that a new ordinance does not test its limits
- Craft an ordinance that properly addresses life and safety issues, certification, licensing and tax collection, but tread carefully around the occupancy issue. Unauthorized expansion of the number of bedrooms should be addressed as code violations.
- In your egerness to control mini-hotels, do not trample on everyone else.