Vacation rental discussion gets continued

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SANDPOINT — Concerns by residents of Westwood Village regarding its label as a resort community led City Council members to once again table a public hearing on vacation rentals last week.

The first hearing on June 21, shortly after House Bill 216 was signed into law limiting the city's ability to restrict vacation rentals, was continued to July 19. Qualls wanted to be sure the legal implications were understood before any changes were made to the city’s ordinance. Because there is no rush to update the ordinance, since HB 216 goes into effect Jan. 1, the hearing was again tabled at that time.

Seven Westwood residents submitted letters to be read into record during Wednesday's council meeting, all with similar concerns regarding the village being zoned as a resort community, although many of the residents are permanent. Bernard Sheldon, Westwood Homeowners Association board member, spoke to council during the public hearing.

"As property owners of Westwood, we are very concerned about the lack of regulation in relation to the density of vacation rentals," Sheldon said. "The resort community designation, as you probably realize, eliminates any regulation on density of rental units. In other words, should it occur that all 79 owners at Westwood decide to convert their units into short-term rentals, there is nothing in any of the statutes and codes that would prevent that — we would basically become a large motel."

Four of the 79 units in the village are permitted vacation rentals, said Aaron Qualls, city planning and economic development director. After an in-depth discussion regarding Westwood, council decided to table the motion until next month to give staff an opportunity to look into the issue and try to find a solution for the residents.

In May 2013, council approved an ordinance regulating short-term rentals of 30 days or less in the residential areas of the city. Some of the highlights from the current ordinance include a 300-foot buffer between short-term rentals, permit and inspection is required to be in compliance with fire and building code, no more than one vacation rental per owner unless exempt from the buffer requirement, inactive tourist homes for a period of 24 months shall constitute a forfeiture of the license.

Proposed changes and discussion items during recent hearings include:

• Consideration of allowance for accessory dwelling units without adherence to the 300-foot buffer requirement.

• Consistent licensing throughout all zones, with specific requirements for requirements for residential zones.

• Elimination of International Building Code Requirements while maintaining certain requirements of smoke alarms, Co2 alarms, fire extinguishers, and emergency egress.

• Providing for self inspections for renewals and notarized statements in order to reduce enforcement pressures and staff time.

• Clarifying room rental by owner-occupied primary dwelling units with respect to the otherwise required 300-foot buffer.

• Consideration within residential zones of one owner per vacation rental.

• Incorporating planning commission recommendations with respect to the inactivity clause.

• Changes to suspension and revocation processes from violations and also adding an infraction section to match existing language for business licenses.

The next public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 18.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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