Saturday, February 08, 2020

Tracy Upchurch | Let locals set rental rules. (SAR)

Good column by St. Augustine Mayor Ad Interim Tracy Wilson Upchurch:

Tracy Upchurch | Let locals set rental rules.
St. Augustine Record
Feb 8, 2020 at 3:05 PM

The explosive growth of short-term vacation rentals in our city has threatened the livability of many of St. Augustine’s neighborhoods.

The Nation’s Oldest City, St. Augustine, has maintained its historic status as the longest continuously occupied European city in the United States, in large part because it has always been a living city and not a gated community, private entertainment complex, or vacation resort. The city’s commitment to its authenticity and livability was formally adopted in its 2014 Vision Plan.

The explosive growth of short-term vacation rentals in our city has threatened the livability of many of St. Augustine’s neighborhoods. The pressures of over-tourism to beloved and fragile cities has been widely discussed and recognized locally, nationally, and even internationally.

In St. Augustine, we have recently passed local ordinances to balance this growth of short-term vacation rentals with the needs of our permanent residents. One ordinance (Ordinance 2019-50) provides regulation of short-term vacation rentals, including such things as registration, annual inspection, intensity of use, and other components, including penalties for violations.

Unfortunately, our city commission’s ability to create the best ordinance is limited by state laws that have handicapped local governments across the state from enacting the comprehensive ordinances that make the most sense for the residents of their communities.

The legislature is currently considering new regulations, including HB 1011 and SB 1128, that would virtually strip all power from local governments to regulate the short-term vacation rental industry. These proposed bills are examples of state preemption that transfers authority from local governments and replaces it with top-down, overbroad, uniform control based in Tallahassee which applies universally and across the entire state for disparate communities such as Destin, Orlando, Miami and St. Augustine.

City staff and commissioners are actively testifying before the Legislature to uphold home rule, respect local decision makers and their constituents, and encourage flexible local solutions to address each of Florida’s hundreds of unique local communities.

The City of St. Augustine is not opposed to short-term vacation rentals and clearly recognizes that this form of hospitality offers many benefits. However, the city believes retaining and strengthening home rule will allow us a way forward to best harmonize short-term vacation rentals with long term neighbors. We oppose these bills and respectfully urge the legislature to restore local government flexibility and control over local zoning.

We are asking readers to please write the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee members listed below before Tuesday, February 11, and let your voice be heard in favor of home rule and against state preemption.

Joe Gruters, Chair; Victor Torres, Vice Chair ; Travis Hutson ; Linda Stewart ; Tom Wright

Upchurch is mayor of St. Augustine and a former member of the Florida House of Representatives.

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