Vacation rental ordinance on trial, jury’s out

Background photo shows Dixie Springs, a hot bed for vacation rentals in Hurricane City and has been the source of the few complaints the city has received about short-term rentals. Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 8, 2016 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

HURRICANE – Hurricane City’s Vacation Rental Ordinance, originally passed in February 2015, has been constantly debated ever since its inception. Last spring, the City Council met in two special work meetings to hammer out how to administer the ordinance after hearing input from many different parties, including residents, administrators from other municipalities, realtors and property managers.

The ordinance the council finally decided upon includes many restrictions, including the following three, which have been perhaps the biggest sticking points:

  1. Homes used as vacation rentals must be more than 300 feet from another home used for such a purpose.
  2. The number of vacation rentals allowed within the city is limited to three vacation rentals per 1,000 population
  3. Homes used as vacation rentals must be occupied as traditional residential units before an application can be made for a vacation rental.

The most recent test of the ordinance was during the council’s Aug. 21 meeting, during which it denied one homeowner’s request for an exception to the ordinance’s restrictions and took no action on another. It denied one because it stands less than 300 feet from another vacation rental and took no action on the other because the property is in an R1-6 zone and vacation rentals are only allowed in R1-8 zones.

Council members justified their action in these two cases by saying that if they allow exceptions, it will open the floodgates to many others seeking the same exceptions. After this discussion, Councilwoman Cheryl Reeve said she felt the ordinance was “on trial.” The main issue for many would-be vacation rental homeowners in the city, of course, is they feel the restrictions are an infringement on property rights; but another big issue is the limitation on the number of vacation rentals based on population.

• report continues below •

Dixie Springs is a mecca for vacation homes in Hurricane. The City Council just denied an exception for a potential vacation rental in the subdivision because it was less than three feet from another one, September 8, 2016 | Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News
Dixie Springs is a mecca for vacation homes in Hurricane. The City Council just denied an exception for a potential vacation rental in the subdivision because it was less than three hundred feet from another one, September 8, 2016 | Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

City Council comments

Councilman Kevin Thomas said he doesn’t even agree with the limits on how many short-term rentals there can be and how far apart they can be but accepted those concessions because he thought they would bring a consensus in the final vote.

Thomas went on to explain that he feels a keen sense of responsibility to represent the interests of the people who elected him, saying that if he believed the majority of Hurricane residents were opposed to having an ordinance that allows vacation rentals then he might consider abolishing the ordinance.  

“There are a few who oppose them,” he said, “and they can be a loud voice.  That, however, doesn’t make them a majority, even if they frequently show up to voice their complaint.”

“Although I disagree with (the limitations) and didn’t want them to be a part of the ordinance, maybe it did bring some balance to those who are worried that somehow the vacation rentals would be a bad thing for the city,” he said. “Maybe because we made those limits there will be less complaining by those who don’t like them. Only time will tell.”

View of Dixie Springs, Hurricane, Utah, looking east from Sand Hollow Road
This photo shows Dixie Springs, a hot bed for vacation rentals in Hurricane City and has been the source of the few complaints the city has received about short-term rentals. Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 8, 2016 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

He wants Hurricane and its citizens to prosper, Thomas said, and believes vacation rentals is one way to help bring that prosperity.

“We happen to live in a city that benefits greatly from tourism. But most of the tourists only have an opportunity to pass through and not spend their tax dollars here because there is not enough room for them all to stay. We need to be able to accommodate them and help them have the best experience possible while they are here.”

Because of this, Thomas said, Hurricane is “merely a pass-through city” and most of the benefit that could be realized in Hurricane passes on to St. George and other areas.  

“The tourists who come here are not bringing drugs and violence to town,” he said. “The tourists are bringing money to town with friendly smiles and wonderful ‘hellos.’”

In Thomas’s mind, vacation rentals self-regulate because if they are not kept up, they will fail to attract customers. Because of that, vacation rentals are usually some of the nicest homes in neighborhoods, Thomas said.

Reeve echoed some of Thomas’ viewpoints, saying she would like residents to have the freedom to do with their property what they want.

“On the other hand, some say that takes away freedom by allowing them in their neighborhood,” she said. “It’s so hard to do the right thing and it’s impossible to please everyone.”

Councilman Darin Larson defended the ordinance’s limit of 3 rental properties per 1,000 population.

“It gives slower sustained growth for the rental market,” he said, noting also that the 300-foot rule is a compromise, “not a perfect solution.”

Overall, Larson admits the ordinance does infringe on property rights, but that the rights of neighbors also have to be considered.

Reeve said she opposed the last agenda item that came up regarding vacation rentals in the City Council’s Sept. 1 meeting. It was proposed that exit signs, a certain fire extinguisher size, a battery occupancy number and exit plan signs be required in the city’s vacation rentals.   

“Vacation rentals are homes and not commercial buildings,” she said.  

A decision on fire code additions to the ordinance was put on hold until a later meeting.

Input from realtors, property manager

Kendall Clements, owner and broker of Escape Properties, which specializes in managing vacation rentals, has been complimentary of the City of Hurricane for passing the vacation rental ordinance. His main piece of advice to the city is to track and report issues with the ordinance.

“Continue to test and make adjustments to the number of licenses,” he said.

“I operate about 30 percent of all vacation homes in the city and I have not yet had a phone call complaint or concerned call from the community,” Clements said. “I hope we never do. But by in large, it’s working. Small adjustments in the right direction is sound advice.”

Sand Hollow Resort, Hurricane, Utah, looking north toward the Pine Valley Mountains
Sand Hollow Resort, located just west of the entrance to Sand Hollow State Park, is another hot spot for vacation rentals within Hurricane, September 8, 2016 | Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

Clements agreed with Thomas’ sentiment, saying the city is growing and tourism will always be a significant part of the economy; the city will continually have to make adjustments to the ordinance.

“The free market naturally will limit the number of vacation homes,” Clements said.  “The city is at present enjoying growth through building – many vacation homes, many second homes and many people relocating to the area – but as the number of licenses is reached, the city may find it has more demand and may have an appetite to open it up more.”

Clements sees the limitation according to population as a compromise to settle tension with “naysayers.”  

So far, he said, the city has issued approximately 48 licenses with approximately 10 more yet to be issued.

“The ordinance did not create a glut on the market,” Clements said. “Economics drive the buying decision to proximity.”

One of the reasons the City Council decided on the 300-foot rule was so entire neighborhoods would not be inundated with nothing but vacation rentals.

Kaesha Fry, a realtor with LBi Real Estate, agrees with that limitation.

“I understand why some would not want their whole street to be used as vacation rentals,” she said.  “I would still want some full-time neighbors to help there be a community feel.”

But Fry had a word of caution for the council: Don’t give in to what Clements coined the “naysayers.”

“There are many, like me, in support of the ordinance,” Fry said. “I feel they assume the majority of residents oppose, but I think it only seems that way because they are the loudest. Don’t be swayed by the loudest voices.”

Overall, the real estate professionals feel that vacation rentals will positively affect the city.

For instance, April Gates, a Hurricane-based realtor with ERA, agreed with Thomas’s comments that vacation rentals are a way to help Hurricane residents prosper and the city to capture more revenue from tourists.

“The vacation rental ordinance is an awesome way for people to maintain and keep their homes here in the valley while providing a little income on the side,” Gates said.

Sand Hollow Resort, located just west of the entrance to Sand Hollow State Park, is another hot spot for vacation rentals within Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 8, 2016 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News
Sand Hollow Resort, located just west of the entrance to Sand Hollow State Park, is another hot spot for vacation rentals within Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 8, 2016 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

“It provides great opportunities for homeowners to diversify their investments, brings people and their money to the city, and rarely, if ever, causes harm to neighbors,” Fry said.

Not surprisingly, those in the real estate business are largely critical of limiting vacation rentals according to population.

“I hate to think that one neighbor could utilize the ordinance while another neighbor might not be able to just because of the size of the city,” Gates said. “It is not fair to let one neighbor do something that inhibits his other neighbor from doing the same thing.”

Many of the real estate professionals said that by and large, a vacation rental is much more desirable than a hotel room when traveling and that Hurricane should allow for more of them.

For instance, Steven Brown, a Hurricane-based realtor with Keller Williams, said, at times families have to rent more than one motel room, which makes vacation rentals more economical and more aesthetically pleasing since they have more of a home feel.

Public input and survey

In a survey (completed by 27 people) for this story, 55.5 percent of the respondents, who were mostly Hurricane residents (88.9 percent), said they either strongly support (29.6 percent) or somewhat support (25.9 percent) the city’s vacation rental ordinance. On the other side, 22.2 percent said they somewhat oppose it, and only 18.5 percent strongly opposed it.

In the 24 responses to explain their responses in support of the ordinance, seven respondents said the ordinance helps the city’s economy.

The tourism industry should be used to our advantage and economic gain,” Hurricane resident Janna Castro said. “The vacation rental ordinance is only limiting those individuals who help the city to grow and become bigger.”

“Wages in our area are low,” one anonymous respondent said, “and this is a way to make secondary income to supplement full time jobs.”

Hurricane residents also pointed out what they perceived as the ordinance’s weaknesses.

“I don’t think the ordinance provides for adequate input from the neighbors who live near or around the proposed vacation rental homes,” attorney Trevor Sanders said. “Instead of requiring their input in the licensing, the city comes up with a more arbitrary 3 licenses per 1,000 people. That formula may or may not be sufficient, but to me, it seems like neighbor input would be invaluable.”

Home which sought an exception to zoning in Hurricane, Utah's vacation rental ordinance
The owner of this home at approximately 500 South and 700 West in Hurricane sought an exception to the R1-8 zoning required to become a vacation rental. Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 7, 2016 | Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

Electrician Matthew MacKay said the ordinance does not allow him to rent out his casita, an extension of his actual house. It is not attached but is still a part of the physical property. He argues that renting out a casita is a better situation than a traditional vacation rental.

“(With a casita) homeowners are much more able to control the overall affect that guests have on the neighborhood (i.e noise, parking),” he said.

With a regular vacation rental, McKay said, the owner has little control over the actual number of occupants in the house, parking violations and noise issues.

“A casita owner actually lives in the neighborhood and knows their neighbors and takes complete ownership of the actions of the guests.”

Of the 27 survey respondents, 59.2 percent said they either strongly oppose (25.9 percent) or somewhat oppose (33.3 percent) the ordinance limiting the amount of vacation rentals based on population. Thirty-seven percent of respondents either strongly support (18.5 percent) or somewhat support (18.5 percent) those limitations.

Hurricane resident Terry Tino said vacation rentals should not be an exception to business regulation.

“Will the city set a limit on the number of grocery stores allowed in the city or the number of schools or of any business anyone wants to open? Why is this different?” she asked. “They are restricting free enterprise.”

Tino argues that the city doesn’t limit the number and spacing between long-term rentals and feels that vacation rentals should be no different.

MacKay agreed with Tino’s assessment.

“If I had 5 acres in the city, I could farm it and sell the goods for a profit and no one would say a word; but if I have a one bedroom casita in my backyard that I want to rent to two people, I should be able to do that as well. It is not hurting the neighborhood,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to earn extra money as well as meet new people.”

Email: rwadsworth@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  • tcrider September 9, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    It is super inconsiderate to the local residents to rent a home out in any residential area. the local tax payers and residents are paying to live in a residential neighborhood, the hotels are expected to follow the regulations and codes to run a legal business, why should these bottom feeder scum be allowed to make money by letting strangers access to private neighborhoods, what if one of these strangers was a pedophile trying profile the children of the neighborhood?
    There is a lot of people renting their homes out on air bnb in Washington city and Saint George, There is no way of the home-owners to check out the back ground of the people renting vs. a legitimate hotel and its only a matter of time before something really bad happens.

  • .... September 10, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Amen to that JJODL

    • tcrider September 10, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      haha dot man, that sounds like a sarcastic amen to me.

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