Members of the Washington Planning & Zoning Commission on Monday got their first look at a set of draft regulations designed to reform how the city manages short-term rentals.
The proposals come as the city enters the fourth week of a six-month moratorium on issuing special use permits for short-term rentals in designated areas.
“Staff is not coming forward with any recommendations today, but instead three different scenarios,” said Washington Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci. He said the scenarios were developed after lengthy discussions with city staff, city officials and attorneys.
“We tried to think of all different kinds of possibilities,” Maniaci said. “We want to give the commission the chance to comment tonight, to give us some direction on what we have come up with, and then we will come back with an official recommendation next month.”
At next month’s meeting, the zoning commission will also hold a public hearing so that residents and property owners can provide feedback about the proposals.
In the first scenario, short-term rentals would be allowed to operate in any commercially-zoned property in Washington. They would also be allowed to operate, if they receive a special use permit, in areas included in the R-2 Overlay District. A link to the city’s zoning map is included in the online version of this story.
This district stretches from High Street east toward MacArthur Street and from the riverfront south to Eighth Street in certain areas. Properties on the west side of High Street between James Street and Aquatic Circle Drive are included in the district.
The second scenario would include the same areas, but impose distance requirements. For example, short-term rentals in commercially-zoned areas would be restricted to being more than 100 feet apart. In residential areas, the short-term rentals would need to be 300 feet apart.
In the third scenario, city staff described creating a new short-term lodging overlay district. This potential zoning district would include all properties from Louis Street on the city’s west side toward Horn Street on the east side and would stretch southward to include portions of Eighth Street. In the proposed overlay district, short-term rentals would be limited to one per block with a maximum of one on each side of the street.
Following the presentation, there was a lengthy discussion about each of the scenarios. The discussion was a good thing, according to Zoning Commission Chair Tom Holdmeier.
“What we were here for tonight is to get more info,” Holdmeier said. “We’re trying to get the basics down (tonight) and I think we will have more discussion next month.”
One topic that sparked a lot of commentary was the proposed distance between short-term rentals as outlined in scenarios two and three and how the distances would be measured. The distances would likely be measured from the edge of the property line.
“Guess the other question that we are talking about is concentration,” said Mike Wood, a member of the zoning commission. “Is there any talk about how many is too many for Washington?”
Maniaci said the proposed distance restrictions would “wipe out the need for an arbitrary number or cap.”
“I think if you’re going to designate an area that people can have a short-term rental and have a distance requirement then there is no reason for a cap,” Maniaci told The Missourian after the meeting. “If they can only be so close together, then that is going to solve that problem.”
Maniaci also pushed back on the idea that the city was not being restrictive enough on short-term rentals and where they could be in Washington.
“By defining what zoning districts it can go into, by defining how close they can be to one another, we are trying to make it more restrictive,” Maniaci said.
Maniaci’s comments were reiterated by members of the zoning commission, who said that the zoning commission — and ultimately the city council — must strike a balance of what is potentially good for the city’s tourism economy and for its residents.
Washington Mayor Doug Hagedorn said the demand for short-term rental housing in Washington should be seen as “a good thing.”
“It shows us that we are a place where people want to go to,” Hagedorn said. “We want these folks to come here, visit and then ultimately move here, but first they have to come and visit.”
Hagedorn continued, “As I see it, these short-term rentals, they add value to our community. They have improved or are improving some houses that needed some TLC for years. They bring people from other communities, people who enrich our lives, and they spend their money here, which should be a huge source of pride.”
Wood agreed saying that, “the idea (with the scenarios) is how do we take that potential for growth and the good for our economy and mesh that with what we currently have in our community. I think that’s the whole purpose of this, how do we get in on the growth without destroying or losing what we have here.”