Passion and ideals over short-term rentals divided people during the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday evening. The vote to recommend the latest version of the short-term rental ordinance failed on a 3-3 vote, with three commissioners absent.
Columbia residents were just as divided on the subject as the commission was.
"We hear a lot about using these properties in party-type situations," said Shawna Neuner, president of the Columbia Apartment Association. "The majority of my guests are coming here for hospital visits."
About half of those who spoke during the meeting shared Neuner's support for short-term rentals such as those advertised on Airbnb, but others said they pose problems.
Christine Gardener, who has lived in the West Ash neighborhood for 35 years, was among them.
"Recently I’m seeing stressors put on my neighborhood," Gardener said. "Right now, the stress of today is unhosted short-term rentals."
Unhosted short-term rentals are for properties that are not the owner’s primary residence. Only obtainable with a conditional use permit, they will be limited to three guests at a time in single-family zones or two per bedroom in other zones. Owners are able to ask City Council to increase either of these numbers. The maximum number of guests is calculated based on bedroom square footage and required living and dining space.
Gardener worries that short-term rentals will begin to take over neighborhoods, that she will no longer have neighbors to go to when the lights go out or if she’s in need of sugar.
For both of these residents, and around 15 others who spoke at the meeting, the vote was a long time coming. The rules considered by the commission Thursday night have been in the works for almost a year. The Columbia City Council will have the final say on whether they're approved.
The commission and city staff presented an initial draft of the rules last November that outlined zoning and taxing codes for short-term rentals, defining them as a room, home or apartment rented by a guest for fewer than 31 days. After considerable feedback, they offered up a revised version for a public hearing on March 7. The most recent proposal is the result of further revisions made over the past six months.
Residents have worried about the lack of city control over short-term rentals and have complained about increased noise, trash and limited parking in single-family neighborhoods.
The latest version of the proposal separates short-term rental into two categories: "hosted" or "unhosted."
Hosted short-term rentals serve as the owner’s primary residence, meaning they live on the property at least 270 days a year. They are required to have a designated agent who lives in Columbia to contact if the owner is unavailable while the place is being rented. Hosted rentals would be limited to no more than three guests at a time in single-family zones and four guests in other zoning districts.
The proposal also would allow the owner of a duplex to ask that both residences be designated as unhosted short-term rentals. And owners of multi-family apartment buildings with more than four apartments or detached residences on a single lot can ask for a conditional use permit that allows up to 25% of the residences to be offered as short-term rentals.
The regulations would require the city to notify all adjacent property owners when someone seeks a conditional use permit to operate a short-term rental. And owners of both hosted and unhosted rentals would be required to provide the city with a list of where they’re advertising. Owners would be limited to only one rental at a time, even if more bedrooms are available in the space.
The city in the long run intends to apply the city’s 5 percent lodging tax to short-term rentals, but a staff report to the Planning and Zoning Commission said that would require separate legislation.
During the meeting many other ideas were presented to the commission that residents wished to see added to the ordinance draft, like limiting the amount of short-rentals in certain areas.
Commissioner Valerie Carroll said she hoped the City Council would take the ideas presented to the commission Thursday into account.
"This is definitely a compromise," Commissioner Sara Loe said. "I think we’d all agree that no one is completely happy with it."
Loe said she particularly worried about the designated agents for hosted short-term rentals. She said she understood agents were added to the ordinance so that the host didn’t need to be present all the time, but it creates a loophole that eliminates the need for the host to be present at all.