First reading held on Short-Term Rental Ordinance, public hearing set for July 26 [PREMIUM]

CONSTRUCTION CONTINUES on large short-term rental homes in south Walton County as the time approaches for a decision on an ordinance that would regulate vacation rentals and seek to address their impacts on surrounding residential communities. (Photo by Dotty Nist)

By DOTTY NIST

Walton County’s ongoing efforts toward reducing negative impacts of short-term vacation rentals within residential neighborhoods continued on June 27 with the first reading of the Walton County Short-Term Rental Ordinance as part of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting on that date at the South Walton Annex.

There was no public hearing, although public comment was received from two attendees. The officials also voted to set a public hearing together with the second reading of the ordinance, at which time a decision on the ordinance may take place.

The second reading and public hearing are scheduled in conjunction with the 9 a.m. July 26 BCC regular meeting, also to be held at the South Walton Annex.

Approximately 6,369 single-family-structure vacation rental units have been identified south of the bay, according to information presented at the June 27 BCC meeting, with another 1,330 such units identified within townhouse structures that could be subject to the proposed ordinance.

Upon approval, the ordinance is expected to take approximately one year to implement and require as many as three additional county employees for staffing, plus one or two additional personnel for the South Walton Fire District.

The ordinance

As presented on June 27, the ordinance would create a certificate program for short-term vacation rentals establishing requirements for the rentals. Among those would be registration with the state for collection of Tourist Development Tax, sales tax, and transient rental tax, obtaining a state license as a transient public lodging establishment, and complying with Short-Term Vacation Rental Standards that would be placed in the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC). The rentals would also be expected to comply with any other applicable local, state and federal regulations.

The ordinance would establish requirements for new short-term rentals less than 4,800 square feet gross floor area and/or with a maximum occupancy of 32 persons with regard to compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods. It would define compatibility with regard to parking—plus design of the rental with a residential character that would include breaking up building mass into smaller components, together with incorporation of common areas within the rental.

New short-term vacation rentals larger than 4,800 square feet in gross floor area and located in zoning districts not allowing multi-family residential would also be required to meet the compatibility requirements—plus go before the Walton County Technical Review Committee (TRC) for approval. with related notification requirements. These rentals would be subject to all standards applying to minor developments, including stormwater level of service standards. This would essentially provide for more stringent review for short-term vacation rentals of over 4,800 square feet in Residential Preservation and Conservation Residential zoning districts.

The ordinance would require a local party to be responsible for the rental, be available at all times, and be able to respond to the site within one hour when necessary.

Consistent with life safety requirements stated in the Florida Administrative Code, maximum occupancy for a rental would be one person per 150 square feet..

Among required posting of information for rentals would be maximum occupancy for the unit, maximum number of vehicles allowed to be parked on the property, trash collection information, quiet hours (between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.), sea turtle protection information, and beach flag system details.

For new construction of short-term vacation rentals and new conversions of properties for use as short-term vacation rentals, parking of one space per four occupants would be required. There would be exemptions from this provision for areas governed by adopted neighborhood plans and owners’ associations, in which instances parking requirements in place for those plans and associations would apply.

With regard to parking for previously-existing short-term vacation rentals, there would be several options to comply with the ordinance: either limiting occupancy based on available parking, using the standard of one parking space per four occupants, increasing parking through the county permitting process to allow for greater occupancy, or using communication with renters to limit the number of vehicles on site an one time in order not to exceed allowable parking on the property.

Parking for short-term vacation rentals would not be allowed on public right-of-ways—and on private roads, parking would be subject to limitation by the entity maintaining those roads.

Enforcement of the ordinance would focus on compliance and compatibility with adjoining properties. Enforcement activities would be in line with Florida Statutes Chapter 162 and Chapter 7 of the LDC. They could include use of a civil citation system with fines set by the county commission and/or referrals of violations to other agencies.

Public comment

At the June 27 BCC meeting, the officials heard from short-term rental operator/small business owner Brittany Blackman and south Walton County resident Barbara Morano.

Blackman told the commissioners that rental operators are mostly in agreement with the ordinance but still have some concerns with the current draft. She reminded the officials that short-term rental property managers are local people who care about the community and who also employ many local residents. Blackman conveyed thanks to Walton County planning staff for their countless hours of work on the ordinance and their cooperation with all parties toward the goal of creating a realistic and fair proposal.

Morano echoed the thanks to planning staff for their hard work. She did not see the effort associated with the ordinance as a battle with rental owners or business people. but as having the goal of quality of life.

Morano spoke to the need to act quickly since homes as large as 12 bedrooms are under construction. “So compatibility is very important,” she said.

Online information

Information on the ordinance including a copy of the proposed ordinance, is available at: https://www.co.walton.fl.us/1318/Short-Term-Rental-Issues