Contractors and builders in Anna Maria can now have their building permit applications reviewed and approved as city commissioners voted 3-2 at their March 15 meeting to lift the administrative moratorium in place since Feb. 23.
The decision came after Commissioners Dale Woodland, Jo Ann Mattick and John Quam said they believe stricter code enforcement would eliminate many of the problems being experienced at vacation rental properties, not a moratorium on construction.
Favoring continuation of the moratorium were Commissioners SueLynn and Chair Chuck Webb.
The administrative moratorium to halt review and approval of building permits passed 5-0 after SueLynn expressed concern at the Feb. 23 commission meeting that construction of more large, multi-bedroom homes would lead to larger vacation rentals, and that would present a problem.
Other commissioners also had concerns at the Feb. 23 meeting that more rentals could create problems in the city.
City planner Alan Garrett agreed that the city is “seeing more home (applications) coming with larger square footage, more bedrooms and the potential for a greater number of occupants.”
But regulation of rental homes is difficult. He can’t look at a building permit application and determine if it’s for a rental or residence. An application for a 4-5 bedroom house could well be for a permanent residence, he said.
“Trying to limit the number of bedrooms is not easy,” he said, “and you can’t single out short-term rentals” for restriction in an ordinance.
Commissioners listed problems such as loud noise after 10 p.m., loud pool parties day and night, curbside trash, excessive parked cars, the number of bedrooms in rental houses and the “box-like” appearance of the second floor of new homes.
Woodland said there was nothing on the problems list that warranted a moratorium. The solution is code enforcement.
“I am opposed to everything you have on the board. Telling people how to shape their house is going too far. The same applies for the number of bedrooms,” he said.
Building official Bob Welch said that in his experience the issue of tear-down and rebuild as a single-family with numerous bedrooms is about the money.
“Island living is money driven. You are always going to have investors looking to maximize their investment by adding rooms or gaining height,” he said.
Welch suggested discussion was moving away from the problem of “late-night revelers” and large homes being turned into rentals.
“That should be our focus,” he said.
Woodland said he didn’t think the commission was the appropriate venue to handle vacationers who cause problems. The rental agents are the first line of defense, and they seem to have more authority in a lease than a commission ordinance or code, he said.
Dye agreed, saying that property managers with a signed lease from the tenant, could act faster than the city in getting a rowdy renter evicted.
Webb, however, said what property managers are doing is not something the city is regulating.
“We are talking about do we have a problem, and what can the city do about it?” said Webb.
Commissioners discussed enacting a license ordinance requiring all city businesses to register with the city, and Webb said he had asked the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation if the city could take over that duty from the DBPR. All rental properties must be registered with the DBPR.
SueLynn favored some form of licensing for the database of information on vacation rental property owners. Code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon has a current list of 80-90 percent of vacation property owners/managers in the city provided by Larry Chatt of Island Real Estate and Mike Brinson of AMI Accommodations, two of the larger property management companies on the Island.
Based on the discussion, Dye said there are two issues: structural and behavioral. The rental agents and code enforcement can deal with bad behavior. The structural issues might need more examination by the city.
Mattick said code enforcement is the proper solution for vacation rental issues, and will be effective over time.
Mike Coleman of Pine Avenue Restoration, which manages vacation rentals, agreed. He said passing a moratorium because of issues at rentals with loud noises, trash left curbside too long and excessive parking is not sufficient to “punish everybody.”
Contractors and builders have laid off employees because permits can’t be issued, even for remodeling or improvements, he said.
Webb and SueLynn suggested the city advertise the second public hearing of the moratorium for March 29, but Quam said the commission could decide that now.
“I guess it comes down to me. I don’t favor advertising for the moratorium. I support lifting the administrative moratorium,” he said.
The vote was 3-2 to halt the second reading. Webb said that meant the moratorium was no longer on the table.
Welch asked Dye for clarification to ensure that he could resume issuing building permits and inspecting and approving construction.
Dye said he could.
Although the moratorium was lifted, SueLynn said she still has her concerns about “my city.”
There are too many rentals, not enough parking and too many people leaving, she said.
“I am worried about this city. I’m concerned we’re fast becoming another Fort Lauderdale,” she said.