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Cape Council rejects vacation rental proposal

By Staff | Oct 17, 2017

The city of Cape Coral’s controversial plan to change policy on short-term vacation rentals was rejected Monday although the concept may head back to the drawing board.

After nearly a year of debate, tabling and changes, the Cape Coral City Council on Monday unanimously killed a resolution that would have imposed new regulations on vacation rentals.

Realtors, residents and property managers all stepped forward during public comment in opposition of the measure, which they said would be represent too much government overreach and be too difficult to enforce.

Chris Lopez, of the Gold Coast Realtors Association, said that while they appreciate the hard work city staff and Council did to try to come up with a good ordinance, they couldn’t support the proposal as written.

“The Realtors who handle rentals are doing the right thing. This is an important winter season coming up and providing less options is not a good idea,” Lopez said.

Councilmember Richard Leon immediately made a motion to reject the ordinance. Mayor Marni Sawicki agreed, saying more work still has to be done.

Councilmember Marilyn Stout suggested the issued be tabled once again so city staff can make the necessary fixes and, perhaps, create a new ordinance.

The problem with that is the city’s land use regulations prohibit renting to guests for fewer than seven days. Florida statutes allow vacation rentals to exist in residential neighborhoods, but the city was grandfathered because their laws were enacted prior to 2011, when the stature was enacted.

By changing the local laws, the city would lose its grandfather status, leaving the Council to decide whether to lose grandfather status or enact rules some say are needed to protect the residential character of the city.

Leon said since everybody seemed to be against the ordinance, it was smart for Council to reject it.

“There are already regulations in place that prevent everything people had worries about. When homes are built, there have to be specific standards. Those laws are in place,” Leon said.

J.J. Jones, a broker at Jones & Company Realty, said the Council’s decision was the correct one. She believed the measure would have involved the government too much for their liking.

“Those of us who do rentals for longer than seven days comply with the law. We try hard to do that and we want to keep it that way,” Jones said. “We want to keep our owners and customers happy and safe.”

The city began work on this issue late last year at a May 15 public hearing. Council tabled the idea until July 24, and then again to Sept. 11, when Hurricane Irma came through.

Over that time, critics said city staff did a good job improving the ordinance, but added it still needs more tweaking.

Jones said she believes the city will try again, saying that municipalities statewide are addressing the issue, with the emergence of Air B&B and other hotel and short-term rental alternatives.

“It’s a big concern, so we’re working to make sure it’s a fair and balanced regulation. The Air B&B’s and those who aren’t getting licensed or paying taxes or following health and safety issues,” Jones said. “The Realtors are following the rules and everyone else should, too.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated and corrected.