Susan Rogers: Housing, tourists and you | TheUnion.com

Susan Rogers: Housing, tourists and you

Susan Rogers
Columnist

Attention Grass Valley city residents! The city is going to adopt regulations for short-term rentals, and you could be affected in ways that may surprise and disturb you. A Feb. 20 meeting of the Grass Valley Planning Commission will be your chance to provide public input on this important issue.

Short-term rentals are the online AirBnB and VRBO-type rentals that have proliferated nationwide over the past decade, causing disruptions in rental housing markets, loss of business for hotels and motels, and reduced quality of life in many neighborhoods, while providing more places for tourists to stay as well as income for residents and property owners (who rent, as a business venture, one or more bedrooms in their home or entire houses). Local governments that regulate short-term rentals benefit by collecting transient occupancy tax in the same way that TOT is collected from hotels and motels.

Both the county and Nevada City have already implemented regulations on short-term rentals. Nevada City prohibits whole-house rentals but allows rentals of "accessory dwelling units" such as guest cottages, in-law quarters, etc. In June 2016, Nevada City voters defeated a proposal that would have disallowed the rental of such "ADUs," with opponents arguing that Nevada City guests deserve to "stay in a quaint neighborhood with kitchen facilities." Voters must have felt that tourists are more deserving than people who actually work here and need a place to live.

Last fall, the Grass Valley City Council began to consider regulating short-term rentals. Such regulation is pretty much inevitable and has been taken up by local jurisdictions nationwide. The $64,000 question is: What form should it take for us here?

If you feel housing is important, and the implicit promise of residential zoning should not be violated just so tourists have more choices and property owners can make more money, then make your opinions known ...

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The council directed city staff to prepare an ordinance revision that would change the definition of residential (R1) zoning to allow both room rentals and whole-house rentals. On Jan. 16, Community Development Director Tom Last brought to the Planning Commission a proposal that would allow whole-house rentals as long as the owner lives within 30 miles of the house and designates a local contact person who would respond to phone calls while the house is rented. The 30-mile restriction is designed to prevent out-of-town investors from purchasing R1-zoned properties for the sole purpose of offering whole-house tourist rentals.

A young man representing "Tenants of Nevada County" joined me in urging the commissioners to not allow whole-house rentals because of what we all know: long-term rental housing in western Nevada County is both scarce and costly. Where are people supposed to live?

Thankfully, the commissioners recognized that the entire issue of short-term rentals is complex and has long-lasting ramifications, both human and economic, for this community. They plan to continue the discussion Feb. 20 to provide time for more research and the opportunity for more public input.

Since many communities have been struggling with this issue, a lot of information is available on what they've done and, in some cases, how it's turned out. One particular city that's worth looking at is Asheville, North Carolina, a popular tourist destination with a thriving arts and cultural scene, located in the foothills of a mountain range (sound familiar?).

Asheville first adopted short-term rental regulations for residentially-zoned areas in November 2015. Just six months later, they tightened up the ordinance to specifically prohibit whole-house rentals. Local newspaper reporting indicated that the shortage of affordable long-term rentals was a key factor in the revision. (I've sent our commissioners links to the Asheville regulations and news articles. If you'd like them too, see my email address below). The news articles mentioned related enforcement problems including noise, trash and parking, plus the general loss of "neighborhood" created by constantly-changing house occupants.

So, city residents, if you don't care whether the people who are needed to serve you in retail stores, restaurants and medical offices — plus other low-to-moderate income individuals and families — can find a place to live around here, just ignore this issue. If you don't care that the house next door to you might be turned into someone's cash machine rather than a home for actual neighbors contributing to your local quality of life, then do nothing.

But if you feel housing is important, and the implicit promise of residential zoning should not be violated just so tourists have more choices and property owners can make more money, then make your opinions known to the Planning Commission and also to City Council. Send your email to Last (toml@cityofgrassvalley.com) for forwarding to all of them, or better yet, attend the meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at City Hall.

Susan Rogers, a Grass Valley resident, and a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the board or its members. She can be reached at gvgengal@gmail.com.