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6/19/2013 3:01:00 PM
Vacation Rental Debate Concludes - For Now
By Shawn Jones

The vacation rental saga, unleashed by the neighbors of a single home steps from Ryan Field on Ashland Avenue, appeared to reach a conclusion on June 10, with a new proposed ordinance that differed radically from the one introduced at Council May 28. The May 28 ordinance would have treated a vacation rental as a subset of bed and breakfast establishments under the City’s zoning code. The revamped ordinance approved on June 10, by 5-4 vote, treats vacation rentals as an ancillary use requiring a license and Planning and Development Committee approval.

The issue brought dozens to Council chambers to speak during the debate that extended for months, but only a single speaker remained standing for the final reading.

The completely reworked ordinance will require anyone seeking to rent a room in their home for less than 30 days, more than once per year, to obtain a license similar to a patio dining license for restaurants. Applicants must provide written notice to property owners within 250 feet. Once obtained, the license, which costs $50 per year, need not be reevaluated annually so long as there are no complaints and the homeowner pays the annual fee. “Special use” language, and the proposed revisions to the bed and breakfast ordinance, were scrapped.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, appeared inclined to keep the matter in committee to work out a couple of issues regarding City Manager approval for exceptions to the application requirement and a once per year exception. But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, successfully proposed amendments removing the approval requirement and inserting the once per year exception.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, was one of four alderman, including Ald. Wilson, who opposed the measure. “We are trying to fix something that is not broken,” she said. Homeowners can easily find ways around the ordinance, she added. “We are over-legislating here.”

The ordinance may result in overcrowded Planning and Development agendas to deal with regulating a particular use of the property by Evanston homeowners that has recently caused problems in only one or two locations City-wide. Simple internet searches reveal dozens if not hundreds of properties offered as vacation rentals on sites such as Air B&B.

Implementation, administration and enforcement of the new ordinance will require “nimble and nuanced thinking by staff,” said City Attorney Grant Farrar of the May 28 incarnation of the ordinance. “There’s an issue here, beyond the four corners of the ordinance. It will be challenging. Very challenging,” he said.

“We have no idea how many there are,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, the City never hears about them “unless there are complaints.”

The neighbors near the single vacation rental that generated the complaints that led to the current seven month effort to create the new vacation rental regulation said they still had problems with the May 28 version of the proposal. Maureen O’Donnell, speaking for the neighbors, told the committee that the lawyers in her group “remain very concerned about” a provision in the proposed ordinance that allows vacation rental owners to be off-site during rental period. “Out of sight, out of mind,” she said, adding, “we just want these holes plugged.

No one from that group appeared at the June 10 meeting. Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward and Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, also voted no. What comes next, including the number of applications filed with the City, remains to be seen.

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