City hall was overflowing last Tuesday with residents, rental property
managers and others eager to suggest ways to cope with noise,
trash and parking problems caused by tourists in vacation rentals.
SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE
HOLMES BEACH – Holmes Beach commissioners began delivering on their campaign promises to make short-term rental problems the focus of the new administration by holding a public work session last week.
A commission chamber overflowing with residents, property managers and others brainstormed suggestions to solve the noise, trash and parking problems caused by tourists in vacation rentals, the result of a recent redevelopment boom and the Island's growing reputation as a wedding destination.
During the city's visioning process, residents said they wanted to maintain the city's single family residential character, which is being undermined by short-term rentals, said Sue Normand, a property owner, business owner and chair of the city's planning commission.
The city is running the risk of losing residential neighborhoods by not enforcing city codes against non-conforming rental properties, she said.
Larry Chatt of Island Real Estate, speaking for five large, unnamed rental property managers that he said represented 65 percent of the managers on Anna Maria Island, delivered a to-do list of "best practices."
For trash problems, the city should require rear-door trash pickup for all rental properties that are required to have a business tax license with the city, and rentals with four or more bedrooms should be required to have more trash cans, he said, suggesting that the city bring back a central dumpster for recycling to avoid blue bins scattered all over streets.
For overcrowding problems, property managers should personally give tourists a note in red letters spelling out noise, parking, trash and other regulations upon check-in, and should ask the number of people and vehicles in the party both while making reservations and again at check-in.
To help enforcement efforts, property managers should give police a list of their rental addresses so that when complaints are called in to the police, they can call the property managers to respond.
To promote goodwill, property managers should encourage rental property owners to meet their residential neighbors, whose concerns about tourist abuses often are ignored.
The suggestions won't address problems caused by tourists who rent online directly from owners, on websites such as Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), or from property managers who don't subscribe to the best practices.
There are no teeth in best practices, said Ron Travis with ReMax Alliance Group, suggesting that when a complaint comes in to the police department, one warning should be issued to the tourist, one to the property owner and one to the property manager, and a $250 fine imposed the second time.
"This packed house tells you there's a lot of issues going on," he said.
The "M" word
Travis drew applause with his suggestion to place a six-month moratorium on building duplexes. Duplexes built 10 feet apart are fire hazards that should have been addressed by the city before construction, he said, adding, "Somebody's gonna die."
City Attorney Patricia Petruff suggested that commissioners could pass a moratorium for six months then extend it to a year if needed.
Darrin Wash, of Wash Family Construction, said a moratorium would hurt everyone, and that the city should "see who's causing the problem and talk to them directly."
Resident Tom Sabow suggested that the city allow builders to build only one or two properties at a time, as a few builders have multiple units under construction for months at a time, making the city look like a "war zone."
For example, builder Shawn Kaleta is using the vacant DaGiorgio's restaurant as a staging area for other construction projects, making a poor impression in the city's business district, he said, suggesting the city not allow equipment storage on site.
Kaleta was not available for comment.
Short-term rental owners often do not comply with regulations such as having fire and health department inspections, observing pool occupancy limits and collecting resort tax, said Ken Gerry, of White Sands Beach Resort, adding that the city should follow up on its proposal to require one parking space for each rental bedroom to reduce multiple cars overflowing into lawns and streets.
The issue is property use, said David Teitelbaum, a Bradenton Beach resort owner and member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.
Residential buildings, many of them duplexes, are being used as commercial enterprises, which may put them in violation of several layers of regulation, including local minimum stay ordinances in different zones in the city, state health department regulations, for example, on commercial swimming pools, and federal regulations on overcrowding.
At his resorts, people are evicted if they disrupt neighbors, he said.
"People come here for enjoyment," said Teitelbaum, one of the founders of the Island's wedding festival. "To turn a single family home or duplex into a wedding palace is wrong," he said.
Twenty five-year resident Jayne Christenson, whose home is surrounded by 10 rental houses, said she was stunned to see a horse being ridden on her street on the way to a beach wedding.
She had several ideas that garnered applause.
Since duplexes are required to be attached, some builders have attached them underground, she said, suggesting that the city require them to be attached above ground, which would discourage investors.
Police should issue tickets, not warnings, for noise violations, she said, and property owners, as well as property managers, should be called when a violation is reported.
The police have no problem citing people, but are not heavy handed on first offenses, Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine said, noting that tourists have written nasty letters to the editor about speeding tickets.
There is a "huge increase" in reports, with 57 calls in the first nine months of 2010 compared to 126 in the first nine months of 2011, he said, adding, "Never feel you're bothering us."
Resident Renee Ferguson suggested that the city take advantage of the Island's talent pool and form volunteer ad hoc committees to help limited code enforcement, building department and police staff tackle the problems.
Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said the commission would consider the suggestions and work on a plan.
"We can all make this a happy, peaceful place where we can co-exist," he said.