Letter to the Editor: published Dec. 11, 2020

Pleased to see transient rentals on Dec. 15 agenda

I am pleased to see the second reading regarding an amendment to the current ordinance regarding transient rentals from a land use entitlement to an administrative permit is on the December 15th agenda.

It was an arduous process for the Planning Commission and it is a positive direction for the City and its residents. As written, it will enable the City to have more control on a yearly basis to track and consider uses and abuses of transient rentals. It will also somewhat discourage off-island purchases of property solely for investment purposes within Avalon, further diminishing rental housing for a work force.

Currently trending across this state and others during the Covid pandemic, more and more property owners are turning to transient as opposed to long-term rentals. With rent increases and evictions currently under a moratorium, more and more property owners are reluctant to rent on a long-term basis, further diminishing available properties for yearly rentals.

Locally, reasonable rentals are in high demand as the potential to purchase in Avalon diminishes in the face of wages based on a tourism economy. Wages cannot keep up with the increase in value of local property prices. This is great for the “haves”, not so great for the “have-not- so-much” citizens. The value of a land use entitlement attached to a deed can increase a property value from $10,000.00 to $50,000.00 it has been reported to me by several local realtors and speculators. In addition, property owners are not motivated to rent on a yearly basis when the profit of a yearly rental is paltry compared to transient rentals.

For this reason, I would also ask that with the prospect of low-cost housing construction diminished in the face of the current economic crisis, the Council consider an incentive to owners of multi-unit dwellings to offer long-term rentals as well as vacation rentals when considering future CUP’s or administrative permits depending on the results of the ordinance before the Council.

Paula Patterson

Planning commission should look at transient rental saturation

My brief but unspectacular 2 years as a Planning Commission Alternate afforded me certain powers of observation of Commission actions. It also enabled my role of whistleblower for purposes of this letter.

My personal take may be in disagreement with prevailing political views but here goes: the commission’s recent history favored a strict interpretation of a part of the city ordinance defining “saturation.” This means any application can be approved unless there already exists transient rentals on three sides of the applicant. In my two years’ experience this interpretation of the housing code drove every decision but one. A number of neighbors on Vieudelou made a strong show of their objection to this unpopular policy and the permit was denied. Later, that denial was overturned on a Christmas Eve appeal.

Before my time, former commissions held forth strong opinions that our present housing crisis had no connection to the growth of transient rentals. Votes of 7-0 against modifying the code predominated through those years. Commissions consisting of realtors, cronies, and CUP owners displayed a notable lack of diversity, let alone out-of -the -box thinking. Property owners have the right to use their property as they wish. Amen. That the Flats suffers most from this position is unquestionably clear. A couple of streets are over 60% transient rentals. The stark imbalance is especially obvious in the winter, with empty house after empty house standing dark in the midst of a housing shortage. Meanwhile, the labor force leaves the Island or must commute. When a house flips, realtors sweeten the potential value with promises of a CUP, Conditional Use Permit, as part of the deal. On heavily impacted streets, there are no neighbors left to voice opposition, write letters, sign petitions or attend meetings.

Now, after two years of work, Commissioners have attempted to stabilize CUP growth. The proposal prepared for a second reading for Council approval consists of three options. Any new applications for having a transient rental will be an administrative permit NOT a land use entitlement as are CUPs. Once issued, there will be a yearly renewal, similar to a business license. It will be more efficient for the owner and the COA, and less costly. When initially issued it will still require approval by the Planning Commission. Secondly, anyone that holds a Conditional Use Permit, grandfathered or otherwise, can sell the property with the CUP. However, upon the second sale, the new owner must apply for the administrative permit. Trusts that perpetuate ownership from parent to child, are not considered sale of the property.

My hope is that the Commission will take up the issue of saturation before there is no more affordable, year-round housing in Avalon. There were other proposals with less support. One asked that the “saturation” clause be dropped and replaced with a 40 percent cap on various streets, without granting any other permits until an existing one became inactive; a statute similar to our present car sticker policy. The last discussion I was part of was a: “Do Nothing, leave well enough alone, kick -the-can-down-the-road non-option, proposed by realtors and friends, presuming the market—driven by Adam Smiths “invisible Hand of God”, will right all imbalance. Of course, Adams theory in 1880, was prior to the era of Airbnb, Vrbo and the recent advent of housing for investment, not habitation, all of which may be invisible to the invisible Hand. The Hand is busy coping with the economic COVID unknown.

But we the people, still need to be vigilant of decisions which are both capricious and contradictory.

Is anybody watching?

Janice Hall