Short-Term Rentals: A better way forward.
In Marine on St Croix, we treasure neighborhood preservation, and we also welcome visitors to experience our small-town atmosphere, patronize our small businesses, be inspired by our history, and bask in our beautiful river valley.
This type of outlook informs my thinking on Short-Term Rentals (STR) like Airbnb. While the issue can be divisive (with valid concerns on either side) it needn’t be so. A solution likely resides in compromise – one that doesn’t impose an outright ban nor leaves STRs unregulated. While not a new phenomenon, STRs in certain neighborhoods have brought the issue to the forefront. Concerns about noise, traffic, parking, disorderly conduct, trash, and sanitation are well-founded.
What do the numbers tell us? A quick search revealed fifteen listings for Marine on St Croix, however the majority are actually outside our borders. Want to stay in a cabin at Dunrovin? $85 per night. House in Jackson Meadow? $320. Riverfront stone “castle” on Pine Cone Trail? A whopping $789!
Discussion of regulation must rest with planning objectives in accordance with zoning. A 2016 Host Compliance survey found that out of 800 local government respondents only about a quarter had rules in place to regulate STRs. Research has demonstrated that STRs become more problematic in communities experiencing a shortage of available and affordable homes, a lack of lodging options for visitors, and the presence of homes that are not owner-occupied for all or part of the year. Sound a little familiar?
Other than defining what an STR is for Marine (see Stillwater’s here), a framework for resident engagement and policy response might include the following discussion points:
· Who is allowed to operate a STR?
· How will STRs be permitted/licensed? Should there be restrictions on number or type?
· What types of units should be allowed? Homes, bedrooms, accessory units, yards, RVs?
· Should STRs be subject to taxes that are applied to other forms of lodging (e.g. B&Bs)?
· Should there be additional insurance requirements?
· Would a local contact person/host requirement assist prompt redress?
· Should neighbor notification and guest registration be required prior to rental?
· If an STR property is used for other purposes (e.g. weddings, parties, etc.), should a separate permit, license, or event application be subject to city approval?
· Do we impose restrictions on where STRs can operate based on density or proximity to our protected river?
The best policy in the world is only as good as the paper it’s written on if there is no realistic way of enforcing it. With a full-time city staff of 3.5 employees enforcement is a litmus test for any future policy. There must be a compliance process, reporting and adjudication process, and clear consequences based on a sliding scale by number and type of violation.
I recently spoke with two successful business owners in town. They told me the reason they fell in love with Marine and decided to open a business here was because they stayed at a STR years ago. They found themselves returning again and again, and now they’re here and invested in the community with great things planned for the future. Oh, and they also rent out their backyard to area canoeists/campers looking for a place to pitch a tent.
Betsy and I are having Leif baptized in September. The god parents are traveling here from the Boston area. For any of you familiar with Beantown, they think it’s the center of the universe. Our house isn’t big enough to double our occupancy for a weekend. While we could have them stay out-of-town, I’m seriously considering a STR for them here. I have a feeling that as they experience the bucolic atmosphere on a crisp September morning all thoughts of East Coast superiority will fade away. We also rented the Judd Street Exchange space for the baptism reception, because why wouldn’t you? It’s gorgeous.
STRs can help market our town to future residents, provide needed economic activity to our businesses, and inspire visitors to recognize and support environmental protections for our river and valley. Unfortunately, STRs can also be a symptom of gentrification insofar as they indicate a severe shortage of affordable and available multi-generational homes. The latter is of great concern to Marine, and I am committed to addressing it head-on.
The question isn’t if we should ban STRs or leave them completely unregulated. Short-Term Rentals can be one way to help us sustain vitality through smart policy that mitigates negative impact to the community. I believe we are at a critical juncture where we have now started to feel the fallout of the loss of the school, and have a ripe opportunity to make careful decisions to plan for our future. I’m running for Marine City Council to work with residents, businesses, and stakeholders to do just that.