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Will limiting cars curb weekend event rentals?

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of May 14, 2015)

In response to homeowner complaints about short-term vacation rentals from Ambersand Beach in the north to Round Island Beach in the south, county administrators unveiled a draft ordinance to limit the number of cars at the rental properties at the commission meeting last week.

In essence, the proposed ordinance, geared to control crowds at rental properties, said that no more than five cars can be parked outside a garage or carport at a short-term rental in the unincorporated area of the county. After a 48-hour warning, the property owner will be fined $50 for each car over the limit.

But as soon as the new parking policy was explained by community development director Stan Boling, questions arose among commissioners and audience members whether limiting cars would actually solve the problem.

Commissioners acknowledged that for events – weddings, reunions, parties – renters could use shuttle buses or limos to ferry guests in and out, which would allow dozens and dozens of people to be at the homes and make it even more likely that noise and excess garbage would disturb neighbors.

“Using these rental properties for events is hard for me to swallow,” said commissioner Wesley Davis.

“But how do you control the number of people and enforce it?” asked commissioner Tim Zorc. “Do code enforcers say, ‘I want to look in your closet?’”

Glenn Powell, who rents several properties to short-term renters, told commissioners that he was well aware of “the horror story” in Central Beach when a group of youngsters from Miami broke into cars after renting a house for a weekend in December and he understood why neighbors were so upset.

He also said he was “very sympathetic” to homeowners who lived next door to short-term rentals where events were held.

“But that’s not what I do,” he said. “I do two to four people looking to buy a home or on a job assignment.”

The problem, he said, is caused by homes rented as “special event facilities,” because the hosts can easily get around the parking limitations.

“I can tell you that 99.9 percent of the vacation rental owners are fine with the parking regulations. But they won’t stop the loud parties with lots of people. You need to limit the people who can occupy a house at any given time,” Powell told the commission.

“I don’t know of any laws that regulate how many people can stand on a lot,” said Commissioner Peter O’Bryan.

County Attorney Dylan Reingold asked commissioners: “Do you really want officers marching in counting noses?”

Commissioner Joe Flescher agreed that enforcement limiting the number of people at a rental at any given time could be problematic: “We want to address the events, but we don’t want to knock down blades of grass with a bulldozer,” he said.

Along Ambersand Beach in the north of the county and in the Round Island area on the ocean in the south, oceanfront residents have repeatedly complained about short-term rentals with large white tents put up in neighboring yards, rental furniture and catering trucks coming and going, and 50 to 100 people partying, with cars parked all along the street.

When guests leave, dozens of bags of garbage line the road.

But at last week’s commission meeting, Deputy County Attorney Bill De-Braal said it was easier to count and limit cars than to limit the number of people at a short-term rental at any given time. He did say county attorneys could look into preventing short-term rentals being advertised as event destinations.

“The more we chew on this the bigger it gets. Maybe the best we can do is see what happens with the parking,” said commissioner Davis.

“I’m big on property rights, but those of us who live in these neighborhoods have a right to quiet enjoyment ... and limiting parking is a good start,” Ambersand Beach resident Tuck Ferrell told commissioners.