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Residents “uncomfortable” with airbnb

Council passes second read limiting short-term rentals to commercial zones

SOLON– Neighbors of a short-term rental at 113 E. Elm St. told city council members they felt uneasy.
Adjacent residents spoke in support of restricting the alternate lodging to commercial zones at a Jan. 8 council meeting.
Council members concurred, and passed the second reading of the new ordinance regulating short-term rental properties, commonly referred to as airbnbs, unanimously.
“We have a great neighborhood,” Tom Wilson said during public comments on the ordinance. “We all know each other. We’ve known each other for years. We talk to one another.”
Wilson was one of several nearby homeowners to speak against allowing the rentals in residential areas.
“You have new neighbors every single week, and we don’t have any control over it,” he said. “And, as far as I know, no one came to the neighbors and asked about this airbnb. We only found out about it because we wondered who were all these people coming and going.”
The city was asked to consider allowing residential locations by Michelle Bennett at the Dec. 18 meeting where the first reading of the new law was considered.
Bennett and her husband originally purchased the Elm Street house for a parent, but ended up repurposing it for short-term stays. The couple rented the property out to 43 sets of guests in 2019, she said.
City Administrator Cami Rasmussen said the business was operating outside of city code.
The new ordinance was one of many revisions to the city’s zoning code recommended by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission.
According to City Attorney Kevin Olson, P&Z members had lengthy discussions before deciding to allow short-term rentals in commercial areas only.
Olson said the rentals will be limited to four dwelling units per location and must pass an inspection before a two-year permit could be issued.
A property owner in a residential area could appeal to the city’s Board of Adjustment, Mayor Steve Stange said, but the city code will only allow the rentals in commercial areas.
He acknowledged some council members discussed the possibility of eventual expansion.
“But that is not on the board at this point, and it’s not on the board in the near future,” he said. “Right now, it’s only commercial areas.”
That’s the way the neighbors at the meeting want it to stay.
Karen Jensen told council members she supported the ordinance as written and opposed any variances.
“I know my neighbors. I know I can trust them,” she said.
Imagine sitting at your kitchen table, she suggested, and a couple houses down you see a lot of cars– sometimes as many as 10 from a variety of states.
Because she doesn’t know the people, she doesn’t know she can trust them, Jensen noted, “and it makes me uncomfortable.”
Another adjacent property owner, Kevin Zimmerman, related issues he’d had with renters blocking access to his driveway and an alley.
“I have no idea who these people are or anything,” he said.
Zimmerman said it had been his worst year of living in Solon, noting people in his yard and talking outside late into the evening.
Zimmerman said on one occasion he called the mayor, who told him to call law enforcement, but no sheriff’s deputies were in the area and he was urged not to confront the visitors.
When he asked two people to move their vehicles blocking his access, one individual became belligerent and said he’d get even, Zimmerman noted.
Zimmerman ended up canceling his plans for the evening and waited on his patio for his wife so she wouldn’t have to deal with the individual if he returned.
Zimmerman said he was confronted in the hardware store the next day for calling the sheriff’s office.
“I will call the cops every time I feel threatened, or a noise violation,” he told council members.
Signs about parking helped a little, he said, but he asked the city representatives to keep the rentals in commercial areas.
Jan Buchmayer, another neighbor, said she had mixed feelings.
“It is a bit uneasy, causes uneasiness,” she said.
She acknowledged the airbnbs are becoming more popular and said in the future they might be allowed in more defined areas or with better control through the sheriff’s office.
Buchmayer was happy with ordinance as-is.
“We’re here, we’re comfortable,” she observed. “And we don’t like getting too uncomfortable about our safety.”
Mayor Stange agreed enforcement was a problem.
“I think our biggest struggle with it being in residential is we do not have our own police department,” he said. Until that time, he added, allowing the rentals in residential areas is probably not an option. “There’s no way to deal with it at the moment.”
The lone voice supporting airbnbs in residential areas came from local developer Al Wells, who also spoke at the December meeting.
Bennett’s rental has been used by families hosting weddings at the Palmer House Stable, which Wells operates as an event venue.
Wells recommended allowing the residential airbnbs for a year using the regulations set forth in the ordinance.
“We haven’t tried it,” he said.
The city will be implementing a new hotel/motel tax and the short-term rentals would generate revenue for the city, he said.
When the project to renovate the former St. Mary Auditorium is complete, he said, the rental rooms would generate $17,000 a year (based on 42 weddings at the Palmer House a year).
If the Bennett airbnb is occupied 211 nights at $150, the seven percent hotel/motel tax would bring in $2,200 for the city, Wells said.
Limiting the short-term rentals to commercial areas will mean there won’t be any airbnbs in Solon, he said.
Solon is unique, and is becoming a destination area for bicyclists and boaters, people who want to experience the town, he added.
People who use airbnbs do not want to stay in a hotel if it’s available, he continued, they want to live in the community like a local and they stay two-and-a-half times longer than a hotel guest.
It would be a mistake not to take the opportunity to have other people experience Solon, he said.
“Otherwise you’re just cutting it off at the knees right away without even seeing if it works,” he concluded.
New council member John Farlinger questioned how many residential units are located in Solon’s commercial zones and whether interest had been expressed by developers.
Mayor Stange responded Wells’ proposal for the former auditorium was the only instance. Not too many single-family homes are located in commercial districts, he added, and the longer-term rental market is strong.
Council member Dan O’Neil, also in his first official meeting, said he sided with the neighbors.
The biggest selling point to include residential would be financial, he said, but against it are the complaints of increased traffic, trespassing and feeling unsafe or threatened.
“Somewhere down the road, maybe it’s a conversation,” he said.