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At the Dec. 14 regular Planning Commission meeting, the group considered the possibility of loosening regulations on the village's 42 TGLs, shown here on a map provided by the Village. (Data courtesy of the Village of Yellow Springs)

Planning Commission broaches changes to Airbnb rules

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How many short-term rentals should exist in Yellow Springs? How close can they be to one another? Who stands to benefit?

At the group’s most recent meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14, the Village Planning Commission broached these questions and others as they considered the possibility of loosening regulations on the 42 registered — and future — Airbnbs in Yellow Springs.

Thursday’s conversation was the first time Planning Commission took a birds-eye view of the municipal rules on transient guest lodgings, or TGLs, since 2021, when the Village imposed a 500-foot restriction on how close they can be to one another. Some commission members suggested that restriction may be “overkill” and is potentially prohibitive for villagers looking for ways to generate additional income.

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“I think the 500-foot rule is too much,” Commission member Stephen Green said. “I’d be in favor of getting rid of it or modifying it.”

As previously reported in the News, Village Council approved Planning Commission’s 2021 recommendation to limit the creation of new TGLs within 500 feet of one another — approximately 10 houses away in the most dense parts of the village — upon recognizing that clustered TGLs in one area could “affect the vitality and cohesion of a neighborhood.”

In a memo issued to Planning Commission members prior to Thursday’s meeting, Planning and Zoning Administrator Meg Leatherman also noted that the 500-foot regulation “ensures that the local housing supply is not dramatically reduced, as [is] seen in many other locations throughout the country.”

However, during Thursday’s discussion, Green indicated that not all TGLs are created equal — that a newly built structure for a short-term rental should be regulated differently than a TGL made from an existing long-term rental unit.

“So if you were converting a garage or building an addition to your house, we could have a different set of rules where you could be closer than 500 feet [to the nearest TGL],” Green said. “We want to encourage people to build more housing, even if it’s a TGL.”

Planning Commission members were torn on the matter; Commission Chair Susan Stiles said that she still supported the 500-foot rule.

“It limits the number of TGLs,” Stiles said. “We set the 500-foot [regulation] because we were concerned about losing long-term rentals to TGLs. By making it a little more of a challenge, we’re hopefully keeping more long-term rentals.”

Green asked Leatherman if more TGLs would crop up in Yellow Springs without the 500-foot ruling.

“We would have more for sure,” Leatherman said. “There’s definitely interest in more people doing it.”

Leatherman added that during the week of Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, she had received three inquiries from interested parties in establishing TGLs — all three of which Leathernman turned away because they were 500 feet from existing TGLs.

As commission member Gary Zaremsky suggested, 2021’s 500-feet [regulation] may have “naturally and indirectly” created a limit on the number of TGLs in the village.

The numbers may support this theory: According to data Leatherman provided the News earlier this week, TGL numbers are down. Whereas there are presently 42 registered with the Village, with two more seeking approval at the group’s January meeting, the annual number of short-term rentals in Yellow Springs has fallen in recent years. There were 46 by the end of 2022 and 53 at the end of 2021.

It’s also possible TGL numbers have declined due to another piece of 2021 legislation in which Village Council banned all new TGLs where a person did not live at the property they wanted to rent out, known as “non-owner occupied” TGLs. Council also imposed a $1,500 annual fee for previously approved non-operator occupied TGLs that goes into the municipal “affordable housing fund.”

According to an up-to-date map Leatherman provided the commission, the highest densities of TGLs are in the North Winter Street and North Walnut Street neighborhoods and the area around West Limestone and High streets — the same as it has been for the last several years.

Zaremsky recalled that the 2021 decision to instate the 500-foot rule was somewhat “arbitrary,” and agreed with Green that Planning Commission should consider regulating TGLs differently.

“The [500-foot] number was not based on some sort of analysis or precedent from somewhere else,” he said. “It was established because it was a nice round number that seemed reasonable. My sense was, ‘Let’s just see how it works.’ And there hasn’t been a groundswell of concerns since.”

Insisting that the 500-foot rule may inhibit those villagers who want to subsidize their living situation in Yellow Springs, Green maintained that softer rules may be needed, and noted that an influx of short-term rentals may lead to larger economic benefits.

“It’s a nice way to bring income to the village and get more people here,” he said. “So long as it’s not destroying the housing stock, I think there’s a lot of win-win in this.”

To his point, Green referenced the 3% lodging tax that the Village collects twice a year on TGLs — which, as Leatherman’s memo notes, garners $40,000 annually for the Village — as well as the indeterminate amount of money spent at Yellow Springs businesses from short-term visitors engaging in local commerce.

Stiles remained stalwart: “We want to keep the character of this community. I know it’s a tourist town in many ways, and we don’t mind welcoming visitors, but we want it to stay a community.”

“I like the 500-foot [ruling] — and I do think there can be some exceptions — but you can really change the character of a neighborhood that is mostly long-term rentals or single-family homes and suddenly, with all these TGLs, you’ll have a lot more people coming and going,” Stiles said.

Village Council Liaison for Planning Commission Gavin DeVore Leonard, who owns a TGL in town, acknowledged that while too many TGLs could negatively impact the “continuity of community,” they nevertheless provide local residents another source of income. DeVore Leonard said that he and his spouse net “two to three times” as much income from their short-term rental than they would from a long-term rental.

“The reason we pursued our project was so we could have a space we could live in when we get older, and our kids could live in the main house,” he said.

Looking ahead to future conversations, and echoing Green’s earlier statements, Zaremsky said he hopes Planning Commission will put TGLs into two “categories,” each with their own provisions and regulations.

“One is someone who wants to convert an existing living unit into a TGL. The other is someone who wants to create a new space,” Zaremsky said. “The latter is not taking away existing living spaces — they’re creating one. These two categories could be treated differently in terms of what’s allowed.”

Ultimately, no decision was made at Thursday’s meeting, though commission members agreed to continue the discussion at future meetings.

The next Planning Commission meeting — at which there will be public hearings on two separate conditional use applications for the establishment of TGLs — will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in the John Bryan Community Center.

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