Park Rapids City Council provides guidance on VRBO ordinance
Council members advise returning to a permitted model and worrying less about "party row."
The Park Rapids City Council on Sept. 22 discussed what direction they would give the city’s planning commission during its third attempt to draft a short-term rental ordinance.
Council member Liz Stone serves on the commission but missed the Sept. 8 meeting when the council referred the second draft back to the commission. Stone provided background about how the commission arrived at its second draft.
Stone recalled that the commission spent 18 months drafting the ordinance, including research into what similar-sized cities in the region were doing.
She said their first intention, embodied in the first draft of the ordinance, was for short-term rentals (also known as Vacation Rental By Owner, or VRBOs) to be an annual, administrative permit.
The second draft shifted to a one-time, interim use permit (IUP) process after commissioners deadlocked on the question of buffer zones between VRBO permits, she said. They hoped the IUP process, requiring a hearing on each permit and both commission and council approval, would provide some control over the density of VRBOs in a neighborhood.
Council member Erika Randall urged the commission to return to an administrative permit model. Calling density control a valid concern, she advised them to approach it less out of concern about a “party row” developing and more because of traffic issues.
Randall also noted that there are plenty of mechanisms to enforce conditions of a permit, including the standards written into Airbnb and VRBO agreements and the presence of police to enforce city ordinances.
Leckner and other council members concurred with Randall. “I think a permitted system is the only way that we’re going to keep the city, and the city council both, out of liability of making one-off decisions that could be determined to be discriminatory.”
Advice to the council
The council also heard from local realtor Diane Dennis, commission chair Dick Bradow and city planner Andrew Mack.
Dennis, who said her concern was about property owners’ rights, suggested that the planning commission touch base with how the county is thinking about dealing with VRBOs.
Randall said this wouldn’t hurt, but she doesn’t think the city needs to adopt the same measures as the county, since they are affected by different issues.
Mack estimated there are currently four or five VRBOs in Park Rapids, compared to about 150 in the county. He said that he talked with the county’s environmental services officer earlier in the process of drafting the ordinance, but the legislative issues the county was following at that time have changed.
Dennis acknowledged that the county’s VRBO issues are more influenced by the lakes than in the city.
Adding that she hasn’t heard about many problems being created by VRBOs in Hubbard County, Dennis said the realtors in the community take issue with the buffer standard.
Bradow said his concern regarding VRBOs is “wheels in the neighborhood” and how a high density of short-term rentals could change the neighborhood’s character.
While it isn’t a huge issue yet, Bradow said, the short-term rentals industry is growing.
No action was taken, since the council had referred the matter back to the planning commission on Sept. 8. The commission’s first opportunity to discuss it will be at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28 at city hall.