Efforts to regulate short-term rental regulations have become a divisive issue in Berlin. Friction seems to be the norm these days in the small town, but I think the short-term rental talks and the ongoing budget debates are healthy.
Two days after the Berlin Town Council held a work session to discussed regulations, members of the town’s planning commission weighed in candidly, saying they considered the regulations reviewed this week a compromise.
Planning Director Dave Engelhart outlined the short-term rental regulations being considered by the town with the Berlin Planning Commission Wednesday. After ensuring the proposed ordinance had measures for inspections and ways to address violations, commission members agreed it should be a way to allow short-term rentals without harming the town’s character.
“It’s not crushing all that Airbnb, it’s just creating some restrictions,” commissioner John Barrett said.
Engelhart said the main frustration most people had with the proposal was the fact it only allowed short-term rentals in the R-1 and R-2 districts in an owner’s primary or principal residence. He said that provision had been included in the proposal, however, to ensure that an investor didn’t come in and buy multiple properties in Berlin just so they could become short-term rentals.
“It’s designed to try and avoid the buy-up by investors of 10 houses,” he said. “It was a compromise.”
He said a homeowner who went to Paris for a month would be able to rent out their home for 28 days while they were gone, for example.
“You don’t have to be there,” he said. “It has to be your principal residence.”
He said that as long as the home was considered the owner’s principal residence and they were there for at least 180 days a year, they could use it for short-term rentals if it was in the R-1 or R-2 district. I think this is a reasonable approach.
Engelhart said there would be an initial inspection when a property owner applied for a short-term rental license and that his office could also inspect at any time.
Chris Denny, chair of the commission and owner of Cheers, said he thought a fire marshal inspection should be an annual occurrence.
“I have one every year for myself, it’s a business,” he said. “I’m a business. They’re a business.”
Engelhart said he would consult the fire marshal about the suggestion.
Commission member Matt Stoehr questioned the 70-square-foot per person rule in the proposed ordinance. Engelhart said the town code already required 70-square-feet per occupant, so that’s what the short-term rental ordinance incorporated.
“That’s our code now and has been since the ‘70s,” Engelhart said.
The short-term rental ordinance is expected to be introduced by the town council March 23. A public hearing would occur in April.
The Francis Scott Key Family Resort and the 14.25 acres it sits on in West Ocean City have been sold for $17.4 million to the Sibony family.
On her Facebook page, long-time owner Annemarie Dickerson confirmed the sale is official after months of speculation. Dickerson wrote, “As some of you may know, Jim and I have sold the Francis Scott Key Family Resort. It was not an easy decision as I have literally grown up on property first working with my dad Kenny Baker and then with Jim our entire 28 years married. Back in 1972 we were a 60-room roadside motel which we have grown into a 240-room family resort that has been honored two times as a TripAdvisor top 25 in the nation for families. We have been blessed with incredible coworkers and loyal guests. We have been a part of so many family vacation memories and special events. To everyone that has been a part of our 48-year history we sincerely thank you and pray for the continued success of the Francis Scott Key Family Resort.”
This space last week included some thoughts on the Coastal Association of Realtors’ campaign against another property tax increase in Berlin as well as regulations on short-term rentals.
Included was Berlin Councilman Zackery Tyndall’s Facebook post encouraging citizens to not accept another property tax increase and to reach out to their elected officials. Commenting on the post, Councilman Troy Purnell urged Tyndall to discuss his plan to help the town’s finances without a tax increase and claimed the property taxes paid on Tyndall’s home are lower today than they were in 2009 when he purchased his home. Though Tyndall did not outline his budget plan at this week’s council meeting as Purnell had requested, Tyndall did communicate with me that Purnell’s claim was wrong and provided documentation. He reported his property taxes were 29% higher in 2019 compared to 2010.
According to Tyndall’s Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation research, he paid $1,277.50 in property taxes in 2010 when the tax rate was $.73 per $100 of assessed valuation. When the tax rate increased to $.80 last year, Tyndall’s property tax increased to $1,653.06 in 2019 with it expected to jump to $1,765.60 after the third year of the Homestead Tax Credit. The value of Tyndall’s home, of course, has increased along the way, from $175,000 when he purchased it to $220,700 today.