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EITA wants council to slow down on short term rental revisions

August 30, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Estero Island Taxpayers Association (EITA) has been on a summer hiatus, but Director Beverly Milligan called a special meeting Monday.

After the town council planning session Thursday, Milligan and other EITA members gathered to discuss concerns over the proposed changes to the short term rental ordinance.

"The town manager put out an aggressive schedule for this," Milligan said. "It's unrealistic."

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Estero Island Taxpayers Association Director Beverly Milligan addressed a crowd of more than 30 concerned residents and business owners who met to discuss changes to the short term rental ordinance.

Hernstadt had outlined the ordinance amendments being ready for a vote in October, with an effective date of Jan. 2018. A one-hour public meeting to gather concerns from the community, both residents and those who rent properties, is scheduled for Sept. 27.

The amendments call for a registry of all short term rentals on the island, with an annual registration fee and 24/7 communication lines should something go wrong at the rental, such as a breach of the code of conduct. The current ordinance also calls for a registry program to be set up; however, it was never done.

Chris Lopez of the Royal Palm Coast Realtors' Association said his organization is seeing an even tighter crackdown underway in Cape Coral, but these actions are not unique among Lee County's municipalities.

"We're seeing this all over the state," he said. "Municipalities are being called to get down on short term rentals."

Rexann Hosafros, a former town council member, said she had attended a legal education seminar on short term rental legislation while on council. Tighter regulations were "churning" at the time, she said, but the six attorneys running the seminar all recommended that the rules shouldn't be changed - or else the town could open itself up to lawsuits.

Regulations on short term rentals can brush a sensitive legal issue: the restriction of private property rights. Multiple Realtors at the meeting sited Anna Maria Island as an example; the small barrier island town in Manatee County implemented more stringent rental rules, and were slammed by lawsuits claiming a violation of the Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act.

"There have been some areas that have made changes, some were successful, but they still have lawsuits," Hosafros said, but told the EITA group that it needed to come up with positive ideas and solutions to give to council.

"There is a legitimate issue or we wouldn't be at this point," she said.

Megan Heil is surrounded by vacation rentals on her street where she's lived for about four years. She says she has to call about the noise coming from the homes around her, because they're so loud it can be difficult for her to have a conversation in her own home. Usually if she calls code enforcement or the property manager the issue is resolved - until a new batch of vacationers show up the next week.

There is also concern from some Realtors that the new regulations would lose the current protections that grandfathered properties have written into the code. As part of the 2003 ordinance, multiple properties were allowed to continue renting at a weekly rate rather than a monthly rate, and that language could be jeopardized.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore said at the Thursday planning session that she would not support the amendments if the original code was lost.

The meeting's consensus was the ordinance amendments are too much, too fast for the property managers, owners, Realtors and other renters - many of whom are also island residents.

"We need more time to examine this, get public input. We need to slow it down," Milligan said. "We'd like to see government lite, not government heavy."

 
 

 

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