HOLMES BEACH – Holmes Beach residents concerned about short-term rental problems may have the chance to propose solutions at a special work session next month.
After lengthy discussion last week, the Holmes Beach Commission assented to new Commissioner Jean Peelen's request to hold a meeting on the issue.
Residents, rental agents and builders could attend the meeting and propose solutions to parking, trash and noise problems created by short-term rentals in the city, said Peelen, who took office last week for her first term on the commission. Peelen said she heard widespread concern about short-term rentals from voters during her campaign.
Citizens can attend commission meetings and express opinions during the public comment portion of the meetings, Vice Chair Sandra Haas-Martens said. Public comment is heard after all items on the commission agenda are concluded, which sometimes takes more than two hours.
Senior citizens are unable to sit through lengthy commission meetings to wait for the public comment section, Peelen said, requesting a separate hearing. Several of the two dozen people in the audience had already left by the time Peelen made her request.
The commission decided to hold the hearing during a work session, which normally is scheduled after a commission meeting, but can be held before the commission meeting. The tentative date is Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Short-term rentals are a relatively new trend in the city, which has lost small, older homes to developers who build large duplexes with several bedrooms, addressing the need for housing created by the Island's growing international identity as a beach wedding destination and tourist resort.
Housing a dozen or more people at a time, short-term rentals plague residents with late night parties, yards overflowing with cars and overflowing trash cans left out for days, several residents have told the commission in recent weeks.
"I moved here because I thought it was paradise," resident and rental property owner Renee Ferguson said on Tuesday night. "We've got to stop this Island from looking like a war zone."
Rental agents told commissioners last month that clients sometimes intentionally violate occupancy laws without the agent's knowledge, and that some agents do not notify renters of local and state ordinances.
The "total neglect" of previous commissioners to enforce noise, parking and trash ordinances was "a dereliction of duty," resident and realtor Ron Travis said, adding that the city code allows what he calls "boarding houses" to rent for as little as one day in some areas.
"We're asking you to enforce the current code and stop short-term rental party houses," he said, suggesting revoking rental permits and instituting a moratorium.
The city's code enforcement officer is inspecting rentals and issuing citations, Haas-Martens said.
One recent case involved an owner advertising for sports teams to rent a single-family residence for three to six days in a zoning area requiring seven-day minimum stays, said Code Enforcement Officer Dave Forbes, adding that he required the owner to change the advertisement, but did not issue a citation.
Peelen suggested considering a six-month moratorium on issuing business licenses to short-term rental property owners.
A moratorium on business licenses would be problematic because they are issued for a year at a time, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said.
However, a construction moratorium is possible, as long as it is on all duplex structures, not just those with several bedrooms, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said, adding that she will research how other cities are handling similar problems.
The city also can suspend rental licenses and has the option of taking violators identified by the code enforcement officer to court, Bohnenberger said, adding that the commission is considering a new ordinance to regulate the construction of new vacation rentals by requiring one parking space for each bedroom.
The city has limited ability to change its code because of a state law passed earlier this year prohibiting municipalities from passing short-term rental regulations if they did not already have them in place, Petruff said.
Holmes Beach is the only one of the Island's three cities with an ordinance designed to discourage "party houses" by restricting minimum rental stays from seven to 30 days in some, but not all, zoning districts. Under the state law, it's too late for the other two cities to follow suit.
Citizens should ask state legislators to repeal the law, Bohnenberger and Petruff both suggested.
In other business:
• The commission passed the first reading of an ordinance listing the streets in the city where golf carts are prohibited – State Road 64, State Road 789, Gulf Drive, Palm Drive and Marina Drive from Gulf Drive to Palm Drive; establishing standards for golf cart use, including the requirement that drivers must have a valid driver license; and indicating that golf carts may only cross state roads at intersections which are signalized and which have been approved the Florida Department of Transportation. No such intersections currently exist in the city, although the city is pursuing one at the new Walgreens on East Bay Drive.
• The commission declined a request by Emery Morse, president of the Martinique North Condo Association, that the city waive its $816 permit fee for installing high-tech, sea turtle-friendly glass doors that cost $42,000, for which the Sea Turtle Conservancy awarded the condo a $6,000 grant. The city code does not allow the city to waive the fee, Bohnenberger said.
• Petruff informed commissioners that other cities are facing issues with senior arcades that allow Internet gambling, advising the board that such a business is not yet prohibited by Holmes Beach code.
• Commissioners authorized payment of $513,000, to be matched with another $513,000 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, for additional improvements to the city's stormwater retrofit project.
• Commissioners heard a report by Rae Dowling of FPL on its preventive maintenance program, which includes inspecting and replacing poles and trimming vegetation around power lines.
• The commission passed an ordinance to allow Manatee County to install, maintain and operate a water system in the city, and passed the first reading of an ordinance to allow the county to install, maintain and operate a wastewater system in the city.
• Commissioners reappointed Marilyn Shirley to the city's parks and beautification advisory committee for a two-year term.