In what seemed like a rerun of a TV series, the Volusia County Council on May 18 once again took up the controversial issue of short-term rentals. County Council members voted against legalizing them.
“It is truly my hope that we can get to the point where we talk with one another,” County Council Chair Jeff Brower said, referring to the sometimes-bitter division voiced in earlier meetings on the topic of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.
Playing in a house packed with partisans pro and con, the council listened to more than three hours of arguments before deciding to keep its zoning ordinance intact. The ordinance bans the equivalent of hotels and motels in neighborhoods, but the zoning law applies only in the unincorporated areas of the county.
“This is not going into the cities,” County Vice Chair Billie Wheeler said.
The County Council’s 5-2 vote against allowing short-term rentals in residential zones means code officers may cite homeowners who take in paying guests. The county’s Code Enforcement Board may impose fines for violating the ordinance.
During the past two or three months, as the council wrestled with the issue, a pause in enforcement was in effect. The County Council’s vote means the county may resume cracking down on alleged violators.
The arguments about vacation rentals of homes in residential zones at this most recent meeting echoed previous debates.
Advocates of renting private homes to visitors for 30 days or less say this type of accommodation is growing in popularity and gives homeowners an opportunity to make extra money.
“Times change, and so have the preferences of today’s travelers,” Mary King of Daytona Beach said. “Now is the time to update our laws.”
Opponents of short-term rentals argue that they attract nuisances such as parking of too many vehicles on neighborhood streets, loud parties and volumes of trash strewn on the outside of the rental properties. Those conditions, they say, affect the quality of life of the neighbors who live there permanently.
“When it’s bad, it’s bad,” one speaker said.
A house where visitors pay to stay, according to Ricky Allen, is “a business operating in a residential neighborhood.”
A few speakers proposed a middle path.
“Vacation rentals should not infringe on the rights of homeowners,” Karen Baker, a Realtor, told the County Council. “Vacation rentals have a direct economic impact. … Please do what is best and vote for well-regulated rentals.”
Former DeLand City Commissioner Maureen France, who now lives in Holly Hill, said she is also a Realtor and the owner of a short-term-rental home.
“I do think there should be proper regulation,” she added.
Besides hearing live speakers from the floor, the County Council was treated to a series of videos featuring people for and against vacation rentals. The videos also appealed directly to council members to support their positions. Some of the people who appeared in the videos were in the audience, and a few of them voiced their sentiments live and on the screens.
“Some people spoke earlier, so they got an extra bite of the apple,” Council Member Fred Lowry said, referring to the live portion of the protracted public hearing.
That double-dipping, plus the long viewing time, annoyed others on the dais.
“We were told it would be a 28-minute production, and it’s been over 45 minutes,” Council Member Ben Johnson said.
“I think we’ve seen enough,” Wheeler said.
County Chair Jeff Brower told his colleagues he wanted to make certain “everyone has the right to be heard.”
“The last time it was three minutes. It’s now almost an hour,” Johnson said, as the debate continued. “I’ve got a problem with that.”
To bring the matter to a close, Lowry moved to not amend the county’s existing ordinance, and Johnson seconded. The vote was 5-2 in favor of the motion, meaning short-term rentals in the unincorporated areas remain illegal.