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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Sarasota City Commissioner struggles to control ‘hotel houses’

Editor & Publisher

Sarasota City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch found herself fighting on several fronts when the issue of hosted rentals arose at last week’s public meeting.

Jen Ahearn-Koch

First, Ahearn-Koch said that the initiative by the City to craft an ordinance to allow hosted rentals in the City was “nothing more than a loophole for hotel houses.”

Ahearn-Koch had numerous concerns over the whole idea of allowing property owners in residentially zoned neighborhoods to rent out bedrooms on a nightly basis, especially without additional controls and regulations. She especially reacted to and was concerned that in October the City Commission asked the City Attorney to craft an ordinance without any constraints, meaning a homeowner can rent out as many rooms as they want to as many people for any duration.

Currently, the City has a seven-day minimum requirement for renting a property in a residentially zoned neighborhood. The idea of hosted rentals has spurred homeowner associations in the City to take issue that without any minimum stay or occupancy limit, it circumvents the current laws and allows tourism and commercial uses in residential neighborhoods.

The only regulation the City Attorney was instructed to put in the ordinance in October was that either a homeowner or a ‘representative’ would have to be on site at the property.

At the meeting last week, Ahearn-Koch was successful in spurring a vote by fellow commissioners to allow the City Attorney to include language for consideration that would place some regulations on the hosted rentals ordinance.

Some of these regulations may include a limit on who can be a host, a limit on occupancy, a registration program as well as the necessity to list your property as a hosted rental property with the property appraiser.

About two dozen residents as well as business leaders waited at the public meeting last week for more than five hours and filled out requests to be heard notices. When the issue arose, they were denied the ability to speak after Commissioner Hagen Brody and Mayor Erik Arroyo and Commissioner Liz Alpert all said that they will have an opportunity to speak to the issue once an actual ordinance is crafted and presented at a public hearing.

Brody said, “My fear is that scenarios will be raised that do not exist and we’ll craft unnecessary regulations into the ordinance.”

At one point in the meeting, Ahearn-Koch suggested that perhaps a sampling of those who came to speak could give their views. The commission then agreed to allow some public input recognizing that everyone had sat for hours waiting for their three minutes to address the issue. At that moment, local developer Kim Githler, Longboat Key Club General Manager Rick Konsavage, St. Armands Residents Association President Chris Goglia, Lido Key Resident’s Association Treasurer Jim Ludwig and City Coalition of Neighborhood Associations Chairperson Lou Costa all sat in front of the commission to speak.

Moments later a procedural issue was raised and suddenly the microphones were shut off and the public was told they could not speak.

After being told they had no opportunity to speak, the 20 something members of the public left the commission chambers and were audibly upset and irritated that they had wasted their time and that the city commission would not allow them to speak to an agenda item.

The issue will return when City Attorney Robert Fournier crafts the hosted rental ordinance, which will likely be in the beginning of 2022.

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