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9/26/2012 2:10:00 PM
Vacation Rentals Stir Controversy

A property owner whose home is on Ashland Avenue, near Ryan Field has stirred controversy in Evanston by offering rooms for rent on a short-term basis. Neighbors on Ashland and surrounding areas came out in force Monday night, Sept. 24, to protest and demand that the City shut down the short-term rental operation.

The Ashland home is one of more than a dozen Evanston offerings that appear on the "" website offering rooms, apartments, or entire homes for rent on a short-term or long-term basis in Evanston. Guests can search for places to stay on the Internet through that site or others to find a place to stay in someone’s home, generally for a modest price.

It is not the first time the matter has drawn resident ire, as the City attempted to shut down a similar operation on Dobson Street in August. The City’s Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that the City had no legal authority to take such action, said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, leaving the City with no way to regulate so-called vacation rental activity.

In response to the Dobson and Ashland issues, City staff proposed a new ordinance that would require the licensing of vacation rentals. The proposed ordinance, however, fell flat before the Planning and Development Committee.

Ald. Rainey called the proposed ordinance "probably the most poorly crafted, uninformed piece of legislation I have seen in my days on Council." She attacked the minimum-stay requirement, 24 hours, saying "a 24-hour-stay is not a vacation – it’s a one-night stand."

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the proposed ordinance had been "put together in haste to deal with immediate concerns" but cautioned against a move that would "hustle something through quickly."

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd ward, agreed, saying it was "clearly put together in a hasty fashion." Moving too quickly would be a mistake, she said, because "sometimes we cause more problems than we try to eliminate."

The Committee voted to take the proposed ordinance off the agenda and send the matter back to staff for an overhaul. The matter, therefore, was concluded.

Not so fast. Fifteen citizens had signed up to speak on the matter, and each took the lectern to voice their collective anger, disgust, apprehension and dismay over the vacation rental at 2515 Ashland Ave. They argued that current City code allowed the City to shut down the home’s rental because it constituted an illegal home occupation.

"We don’t want it regulated. We want it shut down," said Maureen O’Donnell who also said she lives next door to 2515 Ashland.

Attorney Jeff Smith, who represented the homeowner of the Dobson vacation rental in litigation that enjoined the City from taking action prior to a ZBA determination, said that regulation of vacation rentals was appropriate but called for "a balanced, open and open-minded discussion" of the issues.

"The ZBA failed us," said Ald. Rainey. "The ZBA said there is absolutely nothing in our code that prevents people from renting out their house on Craigslist." She called for the lawyers who spoke against the Ashland rental to pool their pro bono resources and appeal the ZBA decision to Cook County Circuit Court.

Nods and whispers of approval were seen and heard. The matter concluded with no action taken by Council but marching orders delivered to vocal and angry citizens.

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