The Park Rapids Planning Commission decided Monday to delete language requiring a buffer zone between permitted properties from a draft ordinance governing short-term rentals, also known as vacation rental by owner (VRBO).

As originally presented to the city council, the proposed ordinance required property owners within 500 feet of the property line of another VRBO permit to apply for an exception when seeking the same permit.

The commissioners also decided to change the permitting standard from administrative approval, which can be handled by city planning staff, to an interim use permit (IUP), requiring a hearing before the planning commission.

Commission chair Richard Bradow sought a compromise between commissioners Bruce Johnson and Nancy Newman, who were willing to reduce the buffer as far as 300 feet, and Liz Stone, who would not go over 200 feet. Scott Hocking was open to anything between 200 and 300 feet, while commissioner Robb Swanson was opposed to any buffer requirement.

City Planner Andrew Mack showed the commission a Hubbard County GIS map of property boundaries in the city, with shading showing approximately 280 properties adjacent to the Fish Hook River, Mud Lake and the Heartland Trail that seemed most likely to be interested in a VRBO.

Mack also hinted that the GIS map could be used to generate mailing labels to invite those properties’ owners to a public hearing.

Noting that Stone’s minimum preference was a 100-foot buffer, Bradow said this would allow every second lot to get a permit without applying for an exception, while a 500-foot buffer would limit permits to about every fifth parcel.

Johnson said it has been his experience, both as a resident in a neighborhood that has multiple VRBOs and as a vacationer who uses them, that a short-term rental has a big impact on the neighborhood and concerned residents should want to know about it and express their opinion about it at a public meeting.

“I think we should be tiptoeing our way into this,” said Johnson, calling a VRBO a “great tool” but adding, “Letting it out a little bit at a time is far better than opening the floodgates, which is what would happen if we don’t have a buffer.”

Swanson argued for looking at VRBOs as businesses operating in an R1 zoning district and having the commission look at each request individually as an IUP request. “It isn’t one-size-fits-all,” he said.

Seeing that he would find no consensus, Bradow called for a motion to direct staff to remove the buffering standard from the proposed ordinance, change the annual short-term rental permit to an IUP, and bring it back for review at a public hearing next month.

Mack noted later that moving toward an IUP will also affect the fee schedule for obtaining a short-term rental permit. The fee being discussed for the administrative permit was $100 annually, whereas an IUP request requires a $175 fee and a $750 escrow.

Bradow mentioned that property owners within 350 feet would receive invitations to any hearing about an IUP request.

Swanson made the motion, seconded by Newman, and it passed with Johnson opposed.