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IOP: short term rental overnight occupancy ordinance passes first reading

In a 6 – 3 vote on March 23, the Isle of Palms Council passed first reading of ordinance 2010-08, an ordinance which restricts the number of people who can stay overnight in rentals with rental licenses purchased after a tentative April 27, 2010, date. During citizen’s comments, the Council heard from 28 island residents whose statements ranged from questions of over-regulation to the fiscal impact on the island to accusations of knee-jerk reactions and the exclusion of rental home owners during the ordinance’s formative meetings.

“You’re spitting in my eye again and I’m not happy about it,” said David Fortson, a rental home owner on the island for the past 40 years. “I don’t live here full time because I couldn’t afford the bills on the house unless I rent it.”

“No one wants to be over-regulated with rules not reasonably calculated to result in beneficial changes for the common good,” said Jody McKnight. “I don’t have all facts, but we need to ask ourselves: are there current regulations in place that give the results you want?”

However, other speakers were adamant to point out that the cap in overnight occupancy would not affect current rentals, only rentals which purchased their rental license after the ordinance is enacted. “There have been many unfounded projections of doom and gloom and the loss of money,” said Arnold Karig, a 40 year resident of the Isle of Palms. “The sky is not falling. Reasonable control of rentals won’t bankrupt the economy. If you look across the United States, rental occupancy is a lot lower than 10. We’ll still have the blight of mini-hotels on the island, but we should preserve the sanctity of residential zoning.”

Jeff Evans, a resident on Hartnett Blvd, pointed out that, “In my view the solution is fair, represents compromise, and it’s workable. We need an ordinance that sticks so we can make economic decisions. If you grandfather in current rentals, not only does the cash cow not get slaughtered, it doesn’t even have to go on a diet. Wild Dunes, thank you, that’s where most of rental income comes from. They get to keep their [rental] licenses and those that feel they should have them will go out and get them. This is healthy for the island and [it’s] real estate future.”

Former City Attorney Nick Sottile even made an appearance, presenting 300 signatures on a petition asking the Council not to approve the ordinance. While the Council appreciated the petitions, Mayor Cronin said that they would have to be reviewed as per City law and would be taken into consideration during the next Council meeting.

During discussions, a few amendments to the ordinance were suggested. The initial ordinance called for a cap of 10 people for overnight occupancy of any new rentals, but Council member Barbara Bergwerf asked that the ordinance be amended to change the cap to 12. “After much thought and talking to council and people in the city, I [would like to] suggest 12 as the max occupancy,” said Bergwerf. Council member Duffy concurred, stating that 85% of the rental licenses on the island are currently for 12 people or less, so it would be fitting with the majority.The amendment was approved in a 6 – 3 vote, with Council members Bergwerf, Loftus, Piening and Thomas, and Mayor Cronin, voting in favor, and Council members Bettelli, Buckhannon and Stone voting against.

Another amendment, which lost in a 5-4 vote, would have allowed children under the age of 12 to not be counted in the maximum overnight occupancy. “It’s not workable,” said Council member Bergwerf. “At 2 and under, the children are in their parents arms or asleep in a crib. Older, they’re all over house. Big, big houses will be affected because people with lots of kids would just get a smaller house.” Mayor Cronin, however, argued that he was in favor of not counting children under the age of 12. “We are a family friendly island and after [the age of] 12, they’re not controllable by anybody. We want kids to come with families.”

Lastly, Council members Bettelli, Buckhannon and Stone requested that an economic impact study be conducted before the second reading of ordinance 2010-08 in order to determine how the change would affect the economic future of the Isle of Palms. “its important that we know what this will do to our island,” said Bettelli. “At the least, we need to go into this with our eyes wide open.” Mayor Cronin argued with the suggested amendment, stating that, “We don’t have the resources or background to do this. We would have to hire an economist and to make a whole series of assumptions. Two years ago couldn’t predict we’d be where we are now.” The motion failed in a 6 – 3 vote with Council members Bettelli, Buckhannon and Stone voting in favor.

A public hearing will be held on ordinance 2010-08 before the next Isle of Palms City Council meeting on April 27, 2010, at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.iop.net or call (843) 886-6428.

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