SOUTH BEND — The Pacific County Board of Commissioners have set a public hearing for Thursday, July 30, over proposed amendments that would overhaul how short-term vacation rentals are regulated in the county.
The hearing, set for 9 a.m. and to be held over Zoom, will likely be followed by a vote from the commissioners on whether to approve the proposed amendments, according to board Chair Frank Wolfe.
“With as much time and effort as we have put into this particular matter, and barring any unforeseen matter of importance coming up, I would think it likely the board will vote following the hearing,” Wolfe said in a July 23 email. A vote to approve the amendments would put an end to a process that began in late 2019 and has sparked fierce debate at previous public hearings and meetings.
Those who have been vocally opposed to the proposed regulations consist mostly of people in the real estate industry or owners of second-homes who rent out their house. The county, they say, should focus more on enforcing regulations already on the books rather than enacting additional regulations that they argue will be damaging to the tourism economy it relies on.
Those who have expressed support for additional regulations mostly include full-time residents who live next to a short-term vacation rental property. They contend that the commercial intent of short-term vacation rentals conflicts with the residential character of R-1 zoning districts, which they said they bought property in with the expectation that they would not be living on the same street as a business.
The amendments to the ordinance that detail the regulating of short-term rentals, Ordinance No. 184, touch on a number of topics that have been disputed between the involved parties.
A key addition to the ordinance, if approved, requires new short-term rentals to have a radius of at least 300 feet — from all property lines — from any other short-term rental property in R-1, R-2 and R-R zoning districts. The 300-foot minimum is a reduction from the 500-foot minimum that was proposed by the Pacific County Planning Commission in March.
Pacific County Planning Director Tim Crose has said throughout the process that the aim of the density rule is to prevent the clustering of short-term rentals in neighborhoods with residential zoning. He said many jurisdictions do not allow vacation rentals at all in R-1 zones, citing the city of Long Beach as an example.
Opponents of new regulations have said the density rule is the most damaging of the proposed regulations, and that it would be detrimental to both the local real estate industry and the economy. Instead of restricting short-term rentals, they argue the county should be working to double the number of rentals in the county, to get on par with other coastal communities and inject more money into the local economy.
Another proposed rule adopts a formal public notice process when an application for a rental license is submitted. The applicant must post copies of the notice of application on the perimeter of the property at least 15 calendar days prior to the hearing date for the license. The county must also post a 2-foot by 2-foot notice of public hearing sign on three locations on the perimeter of the property and the nearest public road, as well as provide written notice to all property owners within the 300-foot radius of all property lines.
Occupancy limit remains
The proposed amendments do not change the county’s existing occupancy limit rule, which allows for a maximum of 10 occupants residing in a vacation rental at any one time. The county’s equation for how it determines its occupancy limit, which is two people per bedroom plus two additional guests, also remained in place.
Those in opposition said there should be no occupancy limit, and that a rental’s limit should be based solely on the equation used to determine occupancy limits. They argue, for example, that a six-bedroom vacation rental’s occupancy limit should be 14 people, rather than being capped at 10 people. The fixed occupancy limit of 10, they said, poses a problem for families wanting to rent out a vacation home to host events such as family reunions.
The county, Crose said, has previously determined that any transient lodging with an occupancy greater than 10 is subjected to a different building code and must follow more stringent rules. Those rules include being in compliance with fire codes by installing sprinklers, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act and requiring an employee to be on-site.
If the proposed amendments are approved by the commissioners, Wolfe said “it’s a pretty good bet” that the commissioners will also move to suspend the moratorium on new short-term vacation rental applications at Thursday’s meeting. The moratorium, which has been in place since February, was extended to September earlier this month.
Wolfe said the actual date of the moratorium being lifted might be set a few days after the meeting, to give the county Department of Community Development some time to organize and prepare before it begins accepting applications again.
If, for some reason, the commissioners do not hold a vote on the amendments on Thursday, Wolfe said the next date they would likely consider taking action on the amendments would be at the next regular board meeting, on Aug. 11.