Hurricane council continues to debate vacation rental ordinance

Washington City Community Development Director Drew Ellerman, a resident of Hurricane, addressed the Hurricane City Council – in his private capacity – concerning short-term vacation rental ordinances. Hurricane City Council Chambers, Hurricane, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

HURRICANE – The only agenda item discussed in the Hurricane City Council meeting Thursday evening is one that has been a hot, controversial topic for nearly a year – vacation rentals. Since the council passed an ordinance approving short-term rental properties within the city limits in February, how to specifically enact the ordinance has been a source of constant debate.

The latest recommendation by the city’s planning commission is to limit vacation rentals within 1,000 feet of each other. Washington City Community Development Director Drew Ellerman, a resident of Hurricane, came to the meeting on his own volition, not officially representing his employer, to tell the City Council that he feels such constraints are not the best way to go about it.

Ellerman encouraged Hurricane to learn from Washington City’s turmoil over the last three years on how to enact a short-term rental ordinance. He suggested doing what Washington City has done by making two ordinances: The first would provide for overlay zones within developments where vacation rentals are allowed; those purchasing property within those zones know exactly what they’re getting into, he said, citing Coral Ridge, located near the intersection of state Route 9 and Telegraph Street, as an example. The second would require a conditional use permit for short-term rentals outside of overlay zones.

The conditional use permit making a short-term rental legal in Washington City is stringent, Ellerman acknowledged. To obtain a permit allowing to turn a property into a vacation rental in Washington City, a landowner must meet six criteria. The lot must be more than 10,000 square feet, conform to the city’s health, safety, building and zoning codes, and be free of “landscape alterations that would change the structure’s residential character.”

The most difficult conditional use permit requirement to meet, Ellerman said, is receiving approval from 75 percent of the property owners within a 500-foot radius. These come in the form of signed and notarized letters and, where applicable, a letter of approval from the homeowners association. These signatures are hard to get, Ellerman said, because most residents want their neighborhoods to adhere to strictly single-family zoning; and because a poorly managed vacation rental “terrorizes the neighborhood,” he said.

The other two criteria for the conditional use permit are that it must be managed by a person or company located within 20 miles of the property and have adequate parking for two vehicles plus one additional vehicle for every two guest bedrooms.

Additionally, the conditional use permits are nontransferable. This means that if the property is sold, if the new owner wants to turn the property into a rental, he or she must go through the approval process again.

So far, Ellerman said, no property owner in Washington City has achieved such a conditional use permit, but two are close.

Ellerman said there are many municipalities in the region who manage vacation rentals well, citing Park City and Durango, Colorado, as examples.

Councilman Darin Thomas then piped up; Hurricane would like to be similar to such places, he said, and wants to be a destination, but such a strict vacation rental ordinance might send the message to “get out of our neighborhood.”

Two residents of the Dixie Springs neighborhood in Hurricane came to the meeting to tell the council just that; they don’t want vacation rentals in their neighborhood.

Dixie Springs resident Lynn Marsh told the council there are several vacation rental homes in Dixie Springs in violation of the ordinance. One has made improvements on the property that would violate Washington City’s conditional use permit criteria of alterations to the property that change the residential character, he said, and he has seen too many cars parked outside another – even to the point of blocking neighbors’ driveways. Marsh urged the council to kill the ordinance or at least exempt Dixie Springs from it.

Another Dixie Springs resident, Nancy Crowley, echoed Marsh’s sentiment, saying enforcement of the ordinance is falling on Dixie Springs residents themselves and there have been recurring problems.

City Planning Director Toni Foran said the Planning Commission feels the 1,000-foot radius proposal would minimize the impact to residential neighborhoods and prevent corporations specializing in vacation rentals from buying up entire city blocks.

City Councilman Darin Larson said that a couple weeks ago, the council seemed pretty comfortable with such a plan, even thinking of shrinking it to 500 feet.

Police Lieutenant Jerod Brisk, filling in at the meeting for Chief Lynn Excell, warned the council of unexpected problems that could come about from the 1,000-foot radius plan, saying it is “probably not an ordinance police should enforce.” He asked the council consider the fiscal amount that could be attached to it in terms of enforcement.

Ellerman said the City of St. George has one full-time employee specifically charged with tracking down illegal vacation rentals.

Brisk said the Washington City ordinance makes more sense and is more enforceable.

Foran said the city could raise the fee for a vacation rental license to help with enforcement costs.

“I don’t think that’s onerous,” Larson said, explaining that if a property owner is really serious, a higher fee would not be a deterrent.

City Manager Clark Fawcett said one of the biggest issues is the desire residents have for peace and quiet in their neighborhoods. Fawcett said he likes the idea of overlay zones and has been concerned with the controversy the vacation rental ordinance has stirred since its approval.

Larson responded to Fawcett: Most vacation rental properties are well-maintained, he said, in some cases better than long-term rentals.

“It has to be maintained so people will come to it,” Larson said.

City Attorney Fay Reber said his main concern is the time and effort to enforce vacation rentals. He suggested the city take time to review options and “get it right” because it could be a mess to continue with it as it is drafted and then try something else later.

Soon after, City Councilman Kevin Tervort made a motion to extend the current moratorium on vacation rentals another six months, a motion that died for lack of a second.

Councilwoman Ethelyn Humphries then made a motion to continue the discussion in two weeks allowing for the possibility of extending the moratorium at that time; Humphries’ motion was unanimously approved.

After approval of the motion, Humphries suggested that Foran submit a list to each City Council member to have them check what they want and do not want in a vacation rental ordinance in order to make the discussion more effective next time and all agreed.

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1 Comment

  • voice of reason December 4, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Utah, home of the free, as long as they tell you it’s o.k.

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