By TRISH DAY
In an ongoing series of public workshops, the TDC held another on short-term rentals on Jan. 28 at the South Walton Annex Boardroom. The hot button issue drew a standing room only crowd.
Kristen Shell, Walton County Planning Manager, explained that they have been tasked by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) to draft an ordinance to address the issues surrounding the ever growing Short Term Rental trade.
A recent online survey netted a huge response from residents and short term rental owners. 3,842 respondents made it clear: The #1 issue is parking; followed closely by occupancy. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that parking should be limited to correspond with the number of bedrooms in the rental, versus increased parking.
There was much discussion about occupancy and what some call “monster houses” or “home-tels”, which boast 18 bedrooms but offer relatively little parking. Many would like to see a moratorium on any new construction of these giant rental houses which can totally disrupt neighborhoods and interfere with what the statute refers to as “rights of quiet enjoyment” of one’s home. Several attendees mentioned the desire to leave the area, or knowing dozens of friends who did leave due to overcrowding, noise, partying and the like.
Resident Maunsel White, whose family has owned property in Seagrove since the 1950s, said his whole outlook on life has changed because of the dramatic changes to the area. “I’m against everything that’s going on,” he said. “The atmosphere and livability here is so diminished that I’ve contemplated leaving. There’s a six bedroom down the street and the sign out front says eight bedroom. Eight bedrooms means eight families can rent that house at one time and there are cars everywhere.”
Another resident said there is a 16-bedroom house in her neighborhood. She previously rented her own home and knows that one bedroom can hold four queen bunkbeds in it, which means up to 16 people can sleep in one room.
A Miramar Beach resident said “We all live in vacation land, but we have to make it symbiotic. Right now, it is not working. I’ve had friends leave because of it. If we do not manage short term rentals, it will turn on us.” He recommended a Short Term Rental Advisory Committee comprised of full-time residents and vacation rental managers to address the growing concerns. “Full-time residents enjoy living here and shouldn’t have to leave,” he said.
Someone mentioned that Fort Lauderdale has an ordinance that says maximum occupancy should not exceed one person per 150 gross square feet and two persons per sleeping room, and recommended the county include similar parameters in the proposed ordinance.
While residents emotionally spoke of being fed-up, rental managers like Brittany Blackman also addressed the group. “We live here too,” she said. “We are not your enemy. We all want good guests. There’s not a single one of us that says ‘I hope I get a big group of people this week that come in and ruin my house.’ Property managers are working to address these issues. We have meetings and get together to come up with solutions. We’ve recently started adding the number of parking spaces right on the listing, because we don’t want to get that phone call either, of where can I park my 15th vehicle? We don’t need another registration process because it doesn’t make anyone more compliant.”
Acting County Attorney Clay Adkinson said “We hold these workshops to educate the public, but also to educate ourselves as we listen to the voices of our constituents.” He also explained that it is early in the session of the Florida Legislature and the county is tracking some bills to see if they pass. One of the bills they are watching addresses short-term rentals. There are also two bills they are following that would impose sanctions on any local governments passing laws that will be preemptive. He said it is almost certain the county will not be enacting a new ordinance until it is seen which bills pass on the state level.
In the meantime, concerned residents and proactive property managers will continue to attend TDC hosted workshops in the hopes of alleviating some of the short term rental issues.