Arlington came up with a compromise for short-term rentals. Why most were unhappy

For nearly four hours Tuesday night, residents voiced strong opinions on short-term rentals booked through online platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.

While the opinions were passionate, there was little consensus between the two groups other than both were unhappy with the City Council’s compromise decision..

Shortly after midnight Wednesday. the City Council voted 8-1 to reaffirm that the city’s ordinances prohibit short-term rentals. Yet the council left open the door to short-term rentals through special use permits.

City staff will work on the special use permit provision and bring it back to the City Council in January, said Deputy City Manager Jim Parajon.

Decked out in red T-shirts were residents who supported a complete ban of short-term rentals, which are defined as properties being rented for 30 days or less. Those residents, many of whom live in north Arlington, said they’ve been plagued by party houses that leave them dealing with noise, trash, alcohol and parking issues.

Dressed in blue T-shirts were short-term rental operators and their supporters, who said they brought guests to the city who would stay elsewhere if the short-term rentals were banned.

There were 71 speakers — 31 in support of a ban and 40 in opposition of one. There were another 89 in the audience in support of the ban who did not speak and 62 non-speakers opposing the measure.

“If both sides are unhappy then you’ve got a good compromise,” said City Councilman Robert Shepard. “... Citizens get to tell us whether it belongs in their neighborhood or not.”

Former Arlington City Council member Charlie Parker, who once represented north Arlington, said the city would have the full support of neighborhoods to fight any legislative challenges if they voted for a complete ban.

“I am in favor of the ordinance as written prior to Mr. Shepard getting his hands on it,” Parker said.

Arlington resident Dave Schwarte said he could not support the “watered-down” ordinance approved by the council.

“If you do not vote quickly, you solve nothing,” Schwarte said. “If you kick the can further down the road, you do not solve anything. We have seen the horror it inflicts upon our neighborhoods.”

Supporters of short-term rentals said the special use permit would effectively give neighborhoods the power to ban short-term rentals anywhere in the city.

“I’m shocked by the abrupt change,” said short-term rental supporter Marty McGee. “All of the discussion prior to today had revolved around a draft ordinance. Where is is the draft ordinance? Is really reasonable if it comes to the citizenry and it’s not a draft? It really kind of blindsides us.”

Brian Farrar summed up the opinion of short-rental owners, saying the city could set up restrictions that would take care of party houses and other issues. He urged the council to work with Airbnb and VRBO to draft rules that had worked in other cities.

“You’re shutting us down for that 1 or 2 percent,” said Farrar referring to the problem party houses.

A market analysis by consultant Host Compliance presented to the City Council found the number of active rental units had grown from 284 in January to 373 in July. Sixty-nine percent of listings are with Airbnb and 12 percent are with VRBO.

Seventy-three percent of those rentals were taking place in single family homes and 27 percent were in multifamily properties.

Roughly half of the rentals were taking place for for 30 nights per year while 29 percent were for more than 90 nights per year.

The report noted that while large ‘party houses’ capture most of the attention, smaller short-term rentals and entire home rentals have the most direct impact on the city’s long-term affordable housing and the quality of life for neighbors of those properties.

In September, Grapevine clarified its ordinance and started enforcing its ban on short-term rentals

It’s also taking place across the country as more travelers prefer to stay in homes or apartments rather than hotels A CNBC report earlier this year noted that issues that have occurred in cities like Miami Beach, Boston and Los Angeles.

This report contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna
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