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Village Council

Village Council — Airbnb regulation in question

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Village Council continued to grapple at its Oct. 16 meeting with how best to regulate local Airbnb lodging, and whether proposed legislation is too restrictive.

In the end, the topic was discussion only, as Council tabled a vote on the new legislation proposed by Planning Commission. Council members will take up the issue again at a future meeting.

 The issue was sent to the planners for review after Council discussed regulation of Airbnbs at a meeting earlier in the year. At that time Council members addressed the issue because more village property owners are renting out space on the popular online site Airbnb —  last week, about 25 Yellow Springs lodgings were listed on the Airbnb website. 

During that earlier discussion, some Council members raised concerns that the growing use of Airbnbs could decrease space for longterm rentals in the village, thus decreasing options for affordable housing. Council then asked the planners to consider the topic in the context of the “Short-term Rentals” section of the Village zoning code, including adding appropriate restrictions on Airbnb lodging.

However, while the planners did suggest some restrictions, they also felt the issues guiding the changes were political and therefore not appropriate for the planning body, according to Village Planning Administrator Denise Swinger, who said the planning body feels its work is done on the topic.

“Planning Commission has talked this to death,” Swinger said. “Planning Commission didn’t feel it was their place to regulate. It’s a political question.” 

Hempfling agreed that the ball should come back into Council’s court.

“As the elected representatives, we’re in the position to make decisions regarding citizens,” she said.

At issue is how much to regulate the use of local Airbnb lodging, which can be more lucrative for property owners than renting out space as long-term rentals. The legislation Council considered at its Oct. 16 meeting makes Transient Guest Lodging a conditional use for all districts other than industrial and conservation. It would restrict property owners to only one transient guest lodging site on their property, either a room in the home or an accessory dwelling. It also would require that the owners of the sites register with the Village, which involves filling out a form and paying a fee. According to the legislation, the Village will grant a conditional use for the site if it is determined to not adversely affect the neighborhood or negatively affect local affordable housing, although Solicitor Chris Conard said those conditions are guidelines only, since there is no clear data to back them up at this time.

Several Council members were uncomfortable with the amount of regulation proposed. 

“We haven’t put restrictions on other home businesses,” Council President Karen Wintrow said.

While Wintrow and Council member Marianne MacQueen have both recused themselves from previous discussions on the issue because they operate Airbnb rentals, they are allowed to talk about the topic, just not to vote on it, Conard said at the meeting.

According to Council member Judith Hempfling, the reason to regulate  Airbnbs more than other home businesses is that the local housing supply might be affected. And while it’s not clear that Airbnbs are affecting local affordability at this time, it could become a factor in the future, as has been experienced by other municipalities where Airbnb has impacted the number of longterm rental units, she said.

Council Vice President Brian Housh and Hempfling said they will meet with Solicitor Conard to discuss Council’s concerns, then bring revised legislation back to Council at a future time.

A recent decision by Council, to impose a 3 percent transient guest lodging tax on those who stay in local lodging, will affect those who stay in Airbnbs. 

In other Council Oct. 16 business:

• Village 2017 finances are looking good as the end of the year grows closer, according to Assistant Manager and Finance Director Melissa Dodd, who presented the third quarter 2017 financial statement to Council.

At the end of the third quarter, about three quarters of revenues should have been collected and three quarters of expenses already spent, Dodd said, stating that using this standard, the Village budget this year seems in good shape. 

Revenues in the general fund, which funds most Village services other than utilities, are at 99.8 percent of what was budgeted, due to higher than expected income tax payments, some property taxes and the sale of a portion of the Village-owned Sutton Farm, she said. Electric fund revenues also came in slightly higher than projected, with the water fund revenues slightly below. Revenues are on track with the budget for both the sewer and solid waste funds, according to Dodd.

Regarding expenses, about 80 percent of funds allocated have been spent in the general fund, although costs for several employee benefits, such as health insurance, are encumbered at the beginning of the year, she said. However, legal fees and hardware/software expenses have been higher than anticipated.

Expenses in the water, sewer and solid waste funds are on track, according to Dodd, who said she’s keeping a close eye on the electric fund due to fluctuating expenses that result from a variety of factors, including customer use and hydro projects coming online.

• Council unanimously approved the second and final reading of an ordinance that limits smoking in Village-owned property. Changes will take place Jan. 1, 2018, and those who violate the ordinance will first receive a verbal warning, then a written warning.

• Council unanimously approved second and final readings of ordinances that put in place new one-time tap fees for water, sewer and electricity to newly constructed homes. Council revised current fees that were deemed insufficient to cover costs and time provided by Village crew for the services.

• Council unanimously approved the first reading of a resolution that will bring the Arts Council permanent collection back to Bryan Center, from Antioch University Midwest, where it’s been housed in recent years.

• Construction of the Village’s new water plant is ahead of schedule and will have a grand opening at an as yet unannounced date in November, according to Water Plant Supervisor Brad Ault, who also said Village staff is working on a plan to communicate with villagers in the event of episodes of brown water associated with the transition to the new plant. Updates may be found on the Village website and on its Facebook page.

• Council expressed approval for a revised plan for the Village Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund, as suggested by the Economic Sustainability Commission. The fund currently holds about $32,000. 

The fund differs from its previous incarnation because it would make smaller loans, of about $5,000 to $10,000 to new businesses, and the application process is streamlined and easier, according to Housh, the Council liaison for the ESC.

• Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

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