orange beach boat logoBy John Mullen
 
January 7, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – Problems with vacation rentals in city neighborhoods have been festering for years, councilmembers told a packed house at a Jan. 4 Orange Beach City Council meeting.
 
Crowding the chambers were Realtors from around the city and county to learn more about a proposed ban of new vacation rental licenses in residential sections of the city. A new ordinance is being written by the city to limit areas of town where vacationers can rent a place to stay for 14 or fewer days.
 
On Dec. 5 the city voted in a moratorium on short-term licenses while the ordinance is being finalized. Any owners who currently have a short-term rental license can renew their licenses through Jan. 30. Properties can remain as short-term rentals unless they are sold to different owners.
 
Currently, a vacation rental business license costs $132 a year. Under the ordinance it is proposed business licenses for short-term rentals in neighborhoods cost $1,000 a year.
 
Also packing the chamber were residents who came forward to relate horror stories of enduring reveling vacationers in their neighborhoods. And, several of those with first-hand accounts were elected officials. Councilman Jeff Boyd and Mayor Tony Kennon both told stories about problems with short-term rentals in their neighborhoods. Boyd lives in a neighborhood in the Marina Road area and Kennon lives in Terry Cove Estates.
 
“I lived next to a short-term rental after Ivan and it was a nightmare for six months,” Kennon said. “I don’t want to not know who my neighbors are. I don’t want to see new people every week.”
 
Boyd said his neighborhood covenants and restrictions ban residents from renting out their properties to vacationers. But one resident continues to do so even after being sent a letter from the association.
 
“The letter explained that our neighborhood had restrictions and to please cease short-term rentals,” Boyd said. “The response from the neighbor, who was a real estate attorney, was ‘I will see you in court- stay off my property or I will have you arrested.’”
 
Kennon said with the popularity of vacation booking services like Airbnb and vrbo.com, the problems have grown over the years. There are about 250 short-term rental properties in city neighborhoods compared to a total of almost 10,000 vacation rental units in Orange Beach, or about 2 percent of the total units.
 
“With the proliferation of Airbnb, the proliferation of the number of short-term rentals, we have people building homes in anticipation of short-term renting for years and years and years,” Kennon said. “It’s grown to the point where I don’t think we can manage it. And like I said earlier, it’s going to affect the character of RS zoning. The proliferation of this alarms me. It’s going to destroy our neighborhoods.”
 
Realtors expressed concerns about protecting property rights and how the new restrictions would affect home sales in Orange Beach.
 
“The Realtors’ association has a goal of protecting private property rights,” Jennifer Foutch of the Baldwin County Association of Realtors said before the meeting. “Any potential changes to the short-term rental licensing would affect private property rights. We have some concerns over how that process is going to move forward.
 
“And, for a lot of buyers who may be looking at a property in Orange Beach as a second home, if they’re not able to do short-term rental, that’s a deal breaker for a lot of transactions.”
 
Kennon said he didn’t believe property rights are being jeopardized.
 
“You don’t have a right to rent short term,” he said “You might want to and we can disagree on whether you should or not, but you have a right? I’m not sure where that comes from. If we’re breaking the law, let us know. We won’t break the law.”
 
Realtors also expressed concerns the change in rules will hurt owners’ property values, but Kennon argued that while its value as a business might be hit, homes will retain their value.
 
“We’re not devaluating a single home with this ordinance based on the cost of it being a residence,” he said. “The devaluation is probably your neighbors who live next door to you because you’re short-term renting because it’s a dump or there are constant calls for noise or whatever. If your residence is a residence, it’s not devaluated.”
 
Concerns were also raised about the city moving too quickly by instituting the ban and planning to have the ordinance in place in two to three months.
 
“You’re painting it with a broad brush and you threw it out there and caused a lot of confusion,” longtime developer and Realtor Leonard Kaiser told the council. “There’s a balance and we encourage you to stop and let’s get a balance to this thing.”
 
But Councilwoman Joni Blalock said the city has been listening to complaints and searching for solutions for years.
 
“We have been looking at this for over two years,” Blalock said. “If people were here on a weekly basis they would know that. But when something comes up that affects their paycheck, then they show up.
 
“We have looked at this, we have hashed it out. I don’t know how many cities we looked at, how many other ways we’ve looked at to handle this. We feel like it’s time to pull the trigger. It has been two years of watching losses, of watching the community and it became time.”
 
Foutch said the Realtors would like to see the city use enforcement to bring unruly property owners in line rather than instituting a blanket ban.
 
“That’s what we’d like to see happen, maybe a focus on the enforcement of existing rules that are out there or even drafting some new rules that would make it so these problems don’t continue,” she said. “And, we understand that and we’d like to work with the city in finding out some ways to address those few that are a problem instead of trying to issue a blanket policy for everybody that would restrict everyone’s personal property rights.”
 
According to Planning Director Andy Bauer, Gulf Shores restricted home rentals for 180 days or less to areas near the beach.
 
“Back in 2009 the city adopted what is called single family and duplex short-term rental overlay district,” Bauer said. “That overlay district is in the beach area primarily down West Beach. All other areas of the city zoned single family and duplex are not allowed to rent. But if you are zoned general business or multifamily you can still rent.”
 
The meeting was moved to Thursday instead of Tuesday because of the Jan. 1 holiday on Monday. The first session was a regular council meeting followed by a work session.
 
During the earlier regular session:
 
• City Administrator Ken Grimes announced that signups for a revived city newsletter is available at the city’s new website, orangebeachal.gov. https://www.orangebeachal.gov/
 
• Police Chief Joe Fierro announced several promotions in his department. Steve Brown is now assistant chief, Carl Bradley was promoted to lieutenant over criminal investigations, Trent Johnson and Bailey Mahler were promoted to sergeant, and Nathan Cain and Joey Brown were promoted to corporal. Julie Bonifay was promoted to communications director.
 
During the later work session, the council also:
 
• Discussed reappointing Karen Clark to the Library Board.
 
• Discussed authorizing the purchase of a knuckle-boom truck for the refuse department from the National Joint Purchasing Alliance for $134,900.
 
• Discussed authorizing the purchase of four vehicles for $134,126 and awarding a bid for a personal watercraft for the Police Department.
 
• Discussed awarding Lt. Clif Roberts his duty weapon and badge as part of his retirement benefits.
 
• Discussed awarding the bid for refurbishment of the Marine 2 police boat.
 
• Discussed authorizing the purchase of three vehicles fire department of $96,782.
 
• Discussed awarding the bid for Thermal Cameras for Fire Rescue.