ST. GEORGE – A proposal to update the county code regarding short-term rentals was passed Tuesday morning by the Washington County Planning Commission. The proposal, which officials say clarifies what had previously been described as broad and vague, is now heading to the Washington County Commission for consideration.
Referred to as “Option 2,” highlights of the proposed update include mandates that landlords absent from short-term rentals have a local property management company to oversee their property; display signs on their units identifying the owner and a phone number for a 24/7 property manager; and have off-street parking available for vacation renters.
The code for the square footage of short-term rentals is also included in option 2.
“We’re trying to find the balance between investors – or landlords who have short-term rentals – and the people who live next door,” said Scott Messel, director of community development for Washington County in St. George. News.
Option 2 was drafted following a September 14 planning committee meeting in which the original proposal, Option 1, was presented and then criticized by “a noisier part” of the participants. at the meeting, Messel said.
The individuals, he said, were mostly landowners and investors who lived outside the region and challenged part of Option 1 which would only have allowed owner-occupied short-term rentals in the regions. county unincorporated areas.
Tyson Isham, a local property manager, previously said Option 1 “would make 96% of our short-term rental market illegal overnight.”
“They said they would grant grandfathered rights to anyone who is already operating legally under current regulations; however, I don’t think this promise really holds up.
Concerns about the growing popularity of short-term rentals in the county have been around for some time. The case came to a head and resulted in the termination of many owner-occupied AirBnB rentals in St. George in 2015. This, in part, led to state legislation in 2017 limiting the means by which authorities of the city and county may locate potential vacation homes in their area for code enforcement purposes.
Most recently, the Washington County Commission voted in May to impose a six-month moratorium on the approval of all new vacation rental applications while the county reviews its existing ordinance and updates it accordingly.
At the time, the county ordinance allowed vacation rentals to be set up pretty much anywhere in the county without too many restrictions. There was also no clear policy regarding the square footage required to accommodate a vacation rental.
Before the moratorium, a landlord only had to obtain a county business license and register with the state to have a vacation rental application approved. After that, county politics became very broad and vague, Washington County Assistant District Attorney Victoria Hales told the commission at its May 14 meeting.
Messel said the existing code was “too distorted” by allowing rentals anywhere and without area or occupancy caps.
One problem with short-term rentals that the county wants to avoid, he said, is the creation of what could be mini-hotels in residential areas where a vacation home can be rented by 30 people or more at once.
“If you live next door to that it can have an impact,” Messel said. “If you are planning to build a house for short-term rental, we won’t let you build a hotel in a residential area. “
Residents of neighborhoods where these rentals exist tend to complain about noise, garbage, and parking, as multiple cars can accompany vacationers. Communities with residents who have complained about short-term rentals include Dammeron Valley, Pine Valley and Sky Ranch, Messel said.
“These areas have experienced more tension and problems with short-term rentals,” he said.
Isham said the restriction on short-term rentals would have a negative impact on the local economy, and he called on the county commission to enforce pre-existing laws rather than creating new ones.
“Our ideal outcome would be for the county to vote to keep its current legislation unchanged and put in place an action plan to apply its current legislation to the letter,” Isham said. “I hope property owners and managers will come forward to speak up and defend their rights instead of having them taken into the dark of night.”
The Washington County Property Owners and STR Facebook group has been following the county’s work on vacation rental ordinance revisions. As of Tuesday night, the majority of the group’s postings did not support the Planning Committee’s vote.
A group member noted the Town Planning Commission ‘s removal of the owner occupancy provision and increased square footage requirements.
“They added an optional gravel driveway and restricted locks as additional units,” the commenter added. “Some of you might think it’s good, but keep in mind a summary of what’s still in it. … Annual inspections, be sure to watch the insane signage requirements… There’s always the size of the unit, the local property manager, and tons of other restrictions. This is all garbage! Please contact the commissioners and tell them to close it. It’s up to them now!
The Washington County committee will vote on Option 2 at its October 5 meeting.
St. George News editor Alexa Morgan contributed to this story.
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