Council asks to be included in STR appeal process

The Hot Springs Board of Directors will review the cap on vacation rentals in residential areas Tuesday night.

The council filed an order lowering the annual cap on short-term rentals in residential use areas at its June 21 business meeting. He is expected to consider an alternative version on Tuesday that retains the lower cap of the original order, which reduced the annual limit from 500 to 400, starting next year, and adds a provision making the commission part of the appeal process.

Appellants have criticized the current process, telling the city that the Zoning Adjustment Board is powerless to consider the effect of short-term rentals on neighborhoods. The BZA hears calls for special use permits, the city issues short-term rentals in residential areas.

The licensing process stems from the STR regulatory scheme which the council adopted last year in response to the growth of the holiday rental industry in residential areas and its effect on the availability of affordable housing. The alternative ordinance uses an amendment to the building and zoning bylaws chapter of the state code to insert the city council into the appeals process.

The BZA is still part of the process under Law 930 of 2021, but its decisions can now be appealed to a municipality’s governing body. Appeals of BZA actions went directly to the circuit court before the change.

“If there is a call to the BZA, it would come to council at no cost to the caller,” City Attorney Brian Albright told council at its June 28 meeting.

The process would be similar to how conditional use licenses are appealed. Issued by the planning commission, conditional uses or variances for land uses not granted as of right within a zoning district are appealed to the city council.

The city’s zoning code allows council to review how a conditional use affects other properties, while the BZA’s review is limited to the actions of the administrative officer who issued the special use permit. The committee dismissed the two special use permit appeals it heard this year.

An early version of the STR regulatory ordinance that council passed last year used the conditional use process to allow STRs in residential use areas, but Albright advised council not to be part of the conditional use process. ‘call.

Serving in a quasi-judicial capacity when hearing conditional use appeals, counsel are prohibited from receiving or soliciting information relevant to the appeal. It can only take into account what is presented in the council chambers.

Albright told council last year that the ban on ex parte information prevents city managers from speaking to their constituents, making city government less representative and potentially requiring managers to recuse themselves from hearings. Several had to recuse themselves from conditional use appeals after talking to voters about the appeal or visiting a site where conditional use had been granted.

He said administrators would be subject to the same ban when hearing special use permit appeals.

“You would be under the same quasi-judicial function,” he told the council at last month’s agenda meeting. “My advice to the board and any BZA member is not to have discussions.”

Conditional uses remain with a property after the land is sold, but special use permits do not transfer when ownership changes.

“We want to avoid bringing conditional use permits to council because a conditional use permit accompanies the land,” Albright told council. “They can’t be erased. So forever that property would have the option of having an STR on it, because it would have a conditional use permit. We would like to stay with the special use permit process that the council did last year.”

The council will also consider lowering the annual cap for STR business licenses in residential areas from 500 to 400, starting next year. November 1 would be the deadline for accepting Special Use Permit applications for 2022. If there are more than 400 licenses by early next year, those over the cap would be eligible for annual renewal.

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