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City Council, January 12

Mayor’s first Council meeting goes well
Issues over Gathering Place and Short Term rental ordinances
Warwick Jones

It was Mayor Tecklenburg’s first Council meeting. He handled it confidently, competently and with humor. Mind, there were no complex issues before Council, at least of great import, nor an ordinance that needed his support. It was a relatively straight forward meeting where the Mayor needed to play only the role of chair.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Mayor sought and gained approval to add items to the agenda. These included the appointments of Council member Seekings to the Chair of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, and Council member Gregorie to the Chair of the Recreation Committee. Of more significance was the move to bring Corporation Counsel “in house” and the appointment of Francis Cantwell to the position. Ms. Cantwell was a senior member of the City’s legal staff. The Corporation Counsel of the City was previously Mr. Charlton deSaussure who was also a principal of a legal firm. All the appointments were approved unanimously and that of Ms. Cantwell, with great enthusiasm.

The only divisive issue before Council last night was the change in off-site parking requirements for commercial space and multi family dwelling units in the MU1 and MU2 zone districts. The amendment was given its second and final reading last night though was unsuccessfully opposed by a number of Council members. The amendment would not exempt, as the ordinance does presently, commercial space of less than 5000 square feet from meeting parking requirements, but would reduce that for dwelling units from 1.5 to 1 space per unit. Staff said the reduction for dwelling units should reduce the number of cars in the core area of the Peninsula. The opponents did not agree and wondered whether 1 car per unit was realistic. Access to CARTA and the hoped for greater use of bicycles was not enough.

Those opposed to the amendment were Council members White, Mitchell, Wilson, Waring and Riegel.

Citizens Participation brought forth a number of citizens, some congratulating the new Mayor, some decrying the Gathering Place (GP) zoning and critical of the City’s plans, and some seeking modification to the existing ordinance relating to short term rentals.

The City has recognized the shortcomings of its GP zoning and last year introduced a moratorium on new development in the zone while it contemplated amendments to the ordinance. At the request of the Mayor, Staff gave an update on work on the amended GP ordinance. The amended GP zoning would be a compromise it said, though no details were given. As citizens complained to Council last night, and at a number of meetings last year, the density of dwelling units allowed in the zoning was far too high and insufficient allowance had been made for subsequent traffic.

Staff said that it planned to have the amended Ordinance before Council at the next meeting. However, as citizens pointed out, this was the day after the public hearing on the amended ordinance. It was not realistic to assume that public comments would have any bearing on the ordinance. Some citizens called for an extension of the moratorium which is to end on the day after the next Council meeting. Some Council members asked that developers be required to submit site plans before projects were approved.

Council member Lewis asked Council to address the issue of short term housing rentals sometime in the near future. He was not happy about any proposed change but clearly there were a lot of citizens agitating for change. He thought the issue should be clarified and whatever position the City defined, it should enforce. Mayor Tecklenburg agreed with him.

Last night, a number of citizens again requested changes in the short term rental laws. Rentals for less than a month are permitted under the Bed and Breakfast Ordinance which relates to the historic district and for structures built before 1860. They are also permitted in the Elliottborough and Cannonborough areas under certain conditions. Speakers asked if short term rentals are allowed in these latter areas, why not others?

Short term rentals have become an issue in many communities in the US and in part reflect the success of such entities as AIrBnB. It has been an issue for some time in the City and the County, both entities having laws restricting short term rentals. But the laws are commonly flaunted.

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