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Council Pursues Unusual Process for STRs

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KUT News
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From the Austin Monitor: The debate over short-term rentals isn’t over in Austin. Not even close. After approving a series of recommendations for future restrictions Tuesday, City Council delayed further action on its ongoing resolution until Oct. 8.

While the goal of the resolution was to present a comprehensive vision for short-term rental regulations that city staff could use to draft an ordinance, an aide to Mayor Steve Adler said that staff would immediately begin work crafting an ordinance before Council takes action on the full resolution.

“Despite there still being amendments on the table, my understanding is this resolution is going to city staff,” said Jim Wick, director of community engagement for the mayor. “The amendments passed on Oct. 8 could be incorporated later.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said the unusual process was perhaps appropriate. “Because it’s such a big issue and we’re taking it up in pieces, my hope is the staff is beginning the process of drafting those ordinance amendments,” she told the Austin Monitor.

Seeking what he described as an imperfect common ground on a contentious issue that brought dozens of passionate residents to City Hall, Adler proposed a set of changes to the original draft resolution authored by Council Member Sheri Gallo.

The approved recommendations proposed barring assemblies of more than six people outdoors at a short-term rental property and barred outside assemblies entirely after 10 p.m.

Council also set an occupancy limit of two people per bedroom, plus two, meaning that a one-bedroom apartment could house four people – two in the bedroom and two in the living room. However, the recommendations also established an absolute maximum of 10 people per unit, regardless of the number of bedrooms.

Finally, Adler’s recommendations set a maximum limit of six unrelated people per property. Advocates of greater restrictions, including Tovo, had argued in the past that including the term “unrelated” would create a loophole that could be exploited by large gatherings of people claiming to be related. Adler said, however, that the absolute maximum of 10 people (no matter what relations) would prevent that problem.

Those recommendations earned support from every member on the dais except for Council Members Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair, who both abstained.

Adler described his recommendations as in keeping with what he called the “85 percent rule.” That meant, he explained, that the regulations would cast a wide enough net to prevent 85 percent of bad behavior and preserve 85 percent of good behavior. But some bad actors would inevitably slip through the cracks, and some good actors would be punished for behavior that is not bothering anybody.

“Everybody agrees that we should do away with the bad actors and the bad conduct,” Adler said. “Everybody agrees that we shouldn’t stop the good actors.”

Unfortunately, he added, “I’m convinced that there’s no way to do both of those things.”

Tovo had less success in pushing through additional zoning restrictions that she seeks as part of the reforms. Asking Council to expedite the passage of one aspect of the proposed reforms – a moratorium on new “Type 2” short-term rental licenses – Tovo proposed separating the moratorium amendment from the rest of the resolution. She also proposed that the amendment bypass the Codes and Ordinances subcommittee of the Planning Commission with the hope of getting it passed as soon as possible.

Council agreed to decouple the moratorium from the resolution but rejected Tovo’s second request after some members argued that bypassing the subcommittee would deprive the proposal of customary public input. Council Members Delia Garza, Leslie Pool, Ora Houston and Ann Kitchen joined Tovo on that unsuccessful vote. Five voted against it, while Council Member Greg Casar was absent.

Tovo told the Monitor that she is nevertheless optimistic that the moratorium could be voted into law relatively soon, perhaps before the rest of the short-term rental proposals are acted on. She also defended her attempt to bypass the subcommittee process, saying she did not believe her request was unusual.

“If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s certainly been discussed,” she said. “Codes and Ordinances is not a requirement under state law.”

She also added that she believed she had seen the subcommittee process bypassed during her time on the Planning Commission.

Tovo moved to postpone another proposal she crafted that would reduce the maximum percentage of Type 3 short-term rental units in a multifamily complex to 3 percent, down from the current maximum of 25 percent. Tovo agreed to delay the measure after several Council members said they were troubled by such a dramatic change.

Council also unanimously approved a measure proposed by Gallo aimed at empowering the code department to issue citations for noise violations, which are currently enforced by the police department. They further OK’d a proposal from Pool to allow residents to submit photo or video documentation of violations as evidence during an administrative hearing and approved authorization for city staff to explore ways to get short-term rental listing sites to collect hotel and motel taxes.

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