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City must deal with ‘hotel houses’ issue

Vacation rentals always have been and will be part of the fabric of Sarasota’s beach communities. Being able to rent out your property is a fundamental right of property ownership and it allows many people, including myself at one point, to have property that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

But is there a point at which vacation rental usage infringes upon the rights of nearby residents – or becomes an illegal use in a residential zone?

Over the past two years the city’s Lido Key and St. Armands Circle neighborhoods have seen six singlefamily homes knocked down and replaced with purpose-built, high-occupancy vacation rentals. The rental agency website describes them with up to eight bedrooms, most with ensuite bathrooms and the ability to sleep up to 25 people in beds.

Nearby residents report large groups of renters turning over each week; they complain of extreme nuisance behavior – and they feel as though they’re now living next to boutique hotels. So you can imagine the outrage among residents when they learned that most of these “hotel houses” were owned by the same outof- city developers – and that this same group has recently:

h Knocked down or begun construction of seven more structures.

h Purchased six additional singlefamily homes.

How can this happen in our neighborhoods? Why isn’t this a prohibited commercial activity in a residential zone? Why don’t these structures meet the city’s definition of a hotel? How do these recurring large groups of renters meet the city’s requirement of household living and family occupancy? Why isn’t the existing zoning code being enforced?

Sarasota isn’t the first community to face this problem, and the city attorney has put forward a vacation rental ordinance modeled after those already adopted in many other Florida communities. The ordinance does two things:

h It places an occupancy limit on vacation rentals (e.g. no more than 10 overnight guests).

h It requires an annual registration with the city.

The occupancy limit solves the problem because it makes it uneconomical to build an eight-bedroom house to accommodate large groups, which in turn reduces nuisance behavior and protects the character of the neighborhood.

The annual registration serves as the enforcement mechanism because It will allow the city to suspend the registration of a repeat offender. It also ensures that vacation rentals are operating safely and lawfully by requiring smoke detectors to be present and operational – and requiring that proper state license and tax registrations are obtained.

This solution can be applied narrowly and unobtrusively – and to just the affected neighborhoods – through a rental registration program that pays for itself.

In addition – after listening to concerns raised by city commissioners – representatives from the St. Armands Residents Association and Lido Key Residents Association met with the city attorney to recommend several changes that are still under consideration. To learn more about this issue and our concerns, visit SaveOurCityIslands.com.

I have a question for our city commissioners: Will you act to protect residents and John Ringling’s vision for St. Armands and Lido Keys from out-of-city developers – or will you allow these groups to irreparably change the character of our barrier island neighborhoods?

In our recent annual membership survey, 97% of the respondents said that the city should “do something” about these hotel houses. That’s why I am asking the city commissioners to support the city attorney in crafting a vacation rental ordinance.

Chris Goglia is president of the St. Armands Residents Association.

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Chris Goglia Guest Columnist

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