Requests for permits to operate Vacation Rentals by Owners (VRBO) in Washington were met with staunch opposition by neighboring homeowners.
The Washington Planning and Zoning Commission Monday denied two requests by residents seeking to use their property for short-term lodging.
The commission is recommending the city council vote against the requests of Sarah Monzyk, 1208 Deer Run Drive, in the Deer Run subdivision; and Joette Reidy, 112 Lake Washington Drive, in the Lake Washington subdivision, for conditional use permits to operate VRBOs inside their homes in residentially zoned districts. The commission voted 7-0 to deny the requests. Carolyn Witt was not in attendance Monday.
Commission members agreed to seek more information about regulating VRBOs, ensuring they meet fire codes and are properly permitted.
Neighbors in both cases protested the requests citing several reasons, including the parking, security and noise.
Some neighbors added they were unaware that VRBOs were proposed, or already operating, in their subdivisions.
Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci said the homeowners brought their requests to the zoning commission after he contacted them when he saw ads for their room rentals during the solar eclipse on AirBnB, an online marketplace where people lease or rent lodging. A special use permit is required for Washington residents in most zoning districts to rent out rooms or homes for short-term use.
Maniaci said all of the rentals are subject to the city’s 5 percent tourism tax and owners must purchase a merchants license.
City staff recommended the planning and zoning commission approve both requests.
“This is quickly becoming a way tourists like to lodge,” Maniaci said. “We can accommodate that but they have to follow code.”
Following the eclipse, the city sent letters to six property owners who listed rentals online for short-term housing and did not request a special use permit.
“The rest of the group did not respond or they said it was just for the eclipse,” Maniaci commented.
Staff recommended approval because the lodging would not have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood because the rentals would be “infrequent.”
Maniaci noted that a conditional use stays with the property and not the applicant, so if the property owner sells the home, the conditional use still is attached to the property.
Deer Run Home
Nancy and John Helfrich, who live across Deer Run Drive from the Monzyk home, presented a petition signed by multiple neighbors who opposed the VRBO. All but two residents in the subdivision signed it.
“We are totally against this,” Nancy Helfrich stated. “Every two to four days there could possibly be somebody new coming into your area — we don’t know who they are or what they are doing.”
Gary Vaughn, who lives on Fawn Drive, said neighbors are concerned property values will drop.
“Everybody knows everybody in this neighborhood,” he said. “There are different scenarios we are worried about.
“We are concerned our properties values will go down,” Vaughn added. “We just hope you do the right thing because we don’t want it.”
Bill Juedemann, who lives next to the Monzyks, said the rear of his home faces the basement where the lodgers stay.
“Our main concern is the precedent this sets,” he told the commission, adding that the Monzyks may be selling the home. “When they go I will still be living there.”
According to Monzyk, lodgers and renters are properly vetted through AirBnB, and there is a need for this housing in Washington.
“I understand your fears,” she said. “AirBnB fits with the Washington boutique-style, individual artistic lodging.”
She further described it as a “mom and pop” venture in which people stay an average of two nights about two to three times per month. The family had been using AirBnB for about a year and was not aware that the city required a permit and collected tourism tax on the lodging.
“We ask you to consider both sides before you are fearful of something new,” Monzyk said.
Planning commission members John Borgmann questioned if the basement room where the renters stay was converted into a bedroom. He cited concerns about two exits as required by fire codes.
Vaughn noted that all of the basement windows are small and near the top of the room.
“I don’t have warm fuzzy feelings because the bedroom is not up to code,” Borgmann said.
Jim Norville, a Fawn Drive resident, was the president of the disbanded homeowners association.
“This (subdivision) was developed as a sole proprietor ownership and we would like it to stay the same,” he said.
Maniaci noted there would not be off-street parking at this home because the driveway could accommodate multiple cars.
“It would be even less of a detriment because it is a longer driveway,” he said.
However, neighboring homeowners said they are against large groups staying at the home and creating a noisy environment.
Brian Lock, a neighbor to the Reidy home, said the subdivision was founded as an “upscale single-family neighborhood.”
“This goes against the nature of what the subdivision is supposed to be,” he said, “of what I bought into and what others bought into.”
Lock, referring to the ad posted by the Reidys on AirBnB, stated the home could accommodate 11 guests.
He said AirBnB may be a reputable company but other similar online marketplaces are not as careful to run background checks on clients.
“There is a whole spectrum and quality of regulations,” he said. “You don’t have to go far to see horror stories about hosts and guests.”
Lock noted in some major cities AirBnB homes have driven up the rental process in neighborhoods.
“I think it is a slippery slope,” he said. “How is it managed? Once this is a approved who is checking?”
Peter Brown, who lives on Lakeview Ridge adjacent to the Reidy residence, also stated his opposition.
“I’m totally against this plan,” he said. “This is never intended to a B and B-type atmosphere.”
Lake Washington Drive homeowner Leon Harvey described the subdivision as a “first-class residential district.”
“That speaks to not having a hotel in the residential subdivision,” he said. “I and everybody who I have talked to are opposed to it.”
Steve Kuenzel, whose property connects to the rear of the Reidy home, warned that allowing the conditional use permit would open the door for more VRBOs in the city.
“You are looking at setting precedent all over town,” he said. “Once you let it in the door, how do you turn it down?”
Kuenzel noted that many neighbors whose property touches the Reidy residence are against a VRBO in their neighborhood.
“There are no hours of operation,” he said. “No noise limit.”
Reidy said she has adequate insurance, and there is not a party atmosphere.
“It is not a party house, it is my home,” she said. “We expect our guests to respect quiet time.
“We are not bringing anymore traffic to the neighborhood than our children did when they were home,” Reidy added.
Ed Reidy added that the home would not be rented to large groups for frat or sorority events as stated by those who oppose the VRBO.
“That is an inordinate exaggeration of the entire situation,” he said.