Mayor announces city will continue enforcement of short-term rental ordinance

Several residents of the City of St. George came to Thursday night's council meeting to speak out against a proposed zone change that would have allowed town homes to be built in their neighborhood. St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – St. George Mayor Jon Pike brought some closure on a long-standing issue Thursday night by announcing the city will keep its existing ordinances banning short-term rentals like those advertised on Airbnb.com and VRBO.com.

St. George City Council. Council chambers, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News
St. George City Council. Council chambers, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News

“We’re going to go ahead and continue our existing ordinances and enforce them,” Pike said during the weekly City Council meeting.

The rentals advertised on sites have become increasingly popular throughout the city as they offer travelers an alternative to expensive hotels while providing additional income to the homeowners.

While the rentals offered on VRBO are entire homes managed by out-of-state owners and rented out to vacationers in the area, those offered on Airbnb are different in that they are owner-occupied and only a portion of the homes are rented out, such as a bedroom or a casita.

Both, however, are in violation of city code that prohibits short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods other than areas zoned with a resort overlay.

“There are areas like in Green Valley that are zoned with a resort overlay and in those areas vacation home rentals and the Airbnb rooms are legal,” Councilwoman Michele Randall said after the council meeting.

The subject has been an issue among city leaders for several months during which time code officers have not enforced the ordinance.

In July, the council held a public hearing to take in arguments from both sides. While the room was packed with residents including those who live in the homes they rent out, St. George News reported at the time, no one spoke in favor of the so-called party houses managed by out-of-state property owners.

St. George City Council meeting, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News
St. George City Council meeting, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News

There were, however, several who argued the practice compromises the integrity of the neighborhood and contradicts the purpose behind dedicated zoning for residential areas.

Since then the subject has not publicly resurfaced until Thursday night when Pike made his announcement.

Besides St. George, the issue has taken the national stage with cities such as New York now wrangling with how to deal with a service that only seems to be growing.

“This is one of those new things that the law hasn’t caught up with yet,” Randall said. “There are cities all over the country that are grappling with it and cases in the courts and we want to see how those play out before we make any major changes.”

Many in the hotel and hospitality industry argue short-term rentals create an unregulated market where hosts do not come under the same requirements as licensed commercial businesses do.

“Hotels and motels are regulated big time. They have regulations on everything from ADA requirements they have to meet to regulations on the smoke detectors in the rooms, and the people in the industry don’t feel like it’s fair that these homeowners don’t have to abide by any of those same regulations,” Randall added.

Enforcing the law is also difficult Randall said as the city largely relies on neighbors to report those around them they believe are renting their homes and rooms illegally.

St. George City Council meeting, Council chambers, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News
St. George City Council meeting, Council chambers, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News

Fines for breaking the law are very low which also make it difficult to enforce the codes, Randall said.

“The city sends out a letter telling them they’re in violation of city ordinances and then they have so many days or they get fined and the fines are so small that they don’t care,” she said. “I mean if the fine is only like $50 or $100 and you’re making six grand a month it doesn’t matter. The law needs to have more teeth.”

Randall also believes the law needs to differentiate the vacation homes from the short-term room rentals with owners on site.

“They are different,” she said. “I have spoken with neighbors who have had vacation rentals near their homes and they say it’s a big party with loud music and cars coming and going all night. The other, the room rentals, are different. For one thing, the owner is there on the property and knows what’s going on at all times and because it’s their private residence they care about what goes on and aren’t going to allow these parties that are happen so often at the vacation rentals by owner. With the vacation rentals the owners sometimes don’t live in town.”

The council may readdress the issue later, but for now, council members have decided to stay with what is there and allow the issue to make its way through the courts, Randall said.

St. George City Council meeting, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News
St. George City Council meeting, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News

In other business Thursday night, the council approved a 107-foot aerial ladder truck for the St. George Fire Department.

The council also shot down a proposed zone change request by Dixie Endeavor LLC on 4.78 acres located at 450 North Street between the streets of 2450 East and 3050 East.

The applicant, who wanted to develop the property by building town houses, or town homes, wanted the council to rezone the property from R-1-7, which is single family residential with lots at a minimum of 7,000 square feet, to planned development-residential. The planning commission had rejected the request two times before the developer moved it forward to the council for approval.

Several surrounding neighbors spoke out during the meeting against the zone change stating they did not want the type of people moving into their neighborhood that they believed high-density town homes would bring in. Representatives from Dixie Endeavors said it was not their intention to move in “criminals.”

Residents also faulted Dixie Endeavors for changing their development plans after residents began speaking out against it; however, City Council members defended the developer’s actions saying he was only trying to find a compromise.

After more than an hour of listening to public comment Councilman Joe Bowcutt pointed out to the audience that he lives in a town home. On that note, he made a motion to approve the zone change – Randall seconded it but the other three council members overrode their motion by voting no to the proposal.

Map of town home development discussed at St. George City Council meeting, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News
Map of town home development discussed at St. George City Council meeting, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • Terry December 5, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Only in Utah, BS

    • 42214 December 5, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      Not only in Utah. Orange County, CA cities are dealing with VRBO type zoning problems. Try researching the OC Register newspaper and find several stories where Anaheim, Newport, Irvine, Fullerton, Garden Grove and other cities are tightening their zoning ordinances to restrict short term rentals. So to say only in Utah is truly BS on your part.

  • 42214 December 5, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Good, if you don’t mind living next to a hotel move on the Blvd.

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