Arlington takes first steps to limit short-term rentals but faces threat of lawsuit

After years of debate, the Arlington City Council on Tuesday took its first step toward regulating short-term rentals.

The City Council approved amending the unified development code by a 6-3 vote to designate a short-term rental district within a one-mile radius of the city’s entertainment district, which includes Six Flags Over Texas, Globe Life Park and AT&T Stadium.

Short-term rentals, which are listed on sites like Airbnb and VRBO, would be permitted in areas zoned in the rest of city for commercial and multifamily if subleases are allowed. Any short-term rental operator would be required to get a temporary permit that must be renewed annually.

A second and final vote is scheduled for the April 23 meeting.

The boundaries for the STR zone are Lamar Boulevard on the north, Center Street on the west, E. Abram Street on the south and State Highway 360 on the east.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Arlington City Council member Helen Moise, who represents north Arlington. “I think what we have on the table is a good start.”

Council member Roxanne Thalman said she would vote against the STR plan since it wouldn’t allow those who live in their homes to rent it out on a temporary basis.

Once it passes, Mayor Jeff Williams said there will be time where adjustments can be made before it goes into effect.

“I hope we can stop the feuding that has been going on and move forward together,” Williams said.

Speaking on behalf of residents opposed to short-term rentals in their neighborhoods, Joe Bruner voiced support for the measure. Half of the City Council chamber was clad in red-T-shirts supporting the STR plan but they chose to let Bruner speak for the entire group.

“The ordinance, we think, is a good compromise,” Bruner said. ”It is certainly not a ban and any STR curtailed can be made up in the STR area.”

The action taken by the City Council, Bruner said, will be noted in Austin where House Bill 3778 filed by state Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, and Senate Bill 1888 filed by state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, would curb cities’ regulation of short-term rentals.

But STR operators spoke against the city’s plan, saying it would hurt their incomes.

“Their wild claims that short-term rentals are taking over the neighborhoods simply isn’t true,” said Brad Herbert, a short-term rental operator and a member of START (or Short-term Accommodations for Residents and Tourism).

The city is currently monitoring 14 short-term rentals that have had 10 or more complaint calls between Oct. 1, 2016 and Sept. 30, 2018. Host Compliance, the city’s consultant, identified 428 short-term rentals operating in the city.

Herbert asked that all current STR operators be “grandfathered in perpetuitity” so that it doesn’t serve as a ban to most of the city but the council did not act on the request.

“Please do the right thing and adopt property regulations that protect all property owners in Arlington,” Bruner said.

Ruby Faye Woolridge, who is running for mayor, said she is not a STR operator but believes they should be allowed because they can serve as an additional source of income for elderly homeowners.

Herbert warned the city that it can expect a lawsuit if the plan passes in its current form. Similar litigation has been filed in other cities.

In Grapevine, residents thought they had the approval to use homes as short-term rentals, then the city reaffirmed an existing ordinance that banned them.

Residents sued and a judge issued a temporary injunction against the ban. A trial is scheduled for July 15.

Southlake and Hurst have also banned short-term rentals.

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