Proposed Short-Term Rental Regs In Pines Brings ‘Unbelievable Outpouring’ Of Comments

Proposed Short-Term Rental Regs In Pines Brings ‘Unbelievable Outpouring’ Of Comments
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OCEAN PINES – Citing heightened community interest, the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) will hold a town hall meeting next month on proposed short-term rental guidelines.

On Saturday, OPA Director Frank Daly withdrew a motion to approve short-term rental guidelines after association officials spent nearly two hours fielding questions and concerns from property owners regarding regulations, enforcement and long-term impacts on the community.

“We are moving the vote on short-term rentals to the April 21 board meeting,” he said at the start of Saturday’s board meeting. “We’re doing so to have a town hall on April 17. This is the last move of this item. It’s going to be voted on this year.”

President Larry Perrone said an “unbelievable outpouring” of comments – both positive and negative – prompted the board to schedule a separate meeting focused solely on short-term rentals.

“If, from that town hall meeting, adjustments need to be made to the short-term rental motion, then it will give the work group time to do that,” he said. “But we want to have a vote by the next board meeting, and I think it’s appropriate.”

Last year, an Ocean Pines work group began meeting with the Architectural Review Committee, the police chief, fire marshal and fire chief, county zoning officials, homeowners and Ocean Pines’ attorney, among others, to draft proposed changes to the association’s architectural guidelines on short-term rental properties. According to association officials, there are roughly 180 short-term rentals in Ocean Pines.

As proposed, the guidelines would require single-family residences rented for 28 days or less to have both a Worcester County rental permit and Ocean Pines rental permit and sticker. The association’s permitting process would require annual inspections to ensure the residence complies with maximum occupancy and safety requirements.

The guidelines set occupancy limits, a required number of waste receptacles, and a required number of off-street parking spaces based on square footage of finished areas.  For example, 1,200 square feet of finished area would allow four occupants and require two waste receptacles and two off-street parking spaces, while more than 4,500 square feet of finished area would allow for 10 occupants and require five waste receptacles and five off-street parking spaces. Bedroom occupancy limits must also comply with Worcester County code.

As proposed, the guidelines would also require short-term rental owners or representatives to live within 30 minutes of the property and to respond to and address complaints. Rental permits will be withdrawn for a period of one year if residences do not comply with occupancy and safety requirements.

Daly – a work group member – told community members last week ongoing issues at three or four properties in Ocean Pines prompted the association to tighten controls on short-term rentals. He added the proposed guidelines are complaint-driven and match what is required by the county in its short-term rental regulations.

“In serious, egregious, life-threatening, safety-threatening, property-threatening situations or repeat violations, the general manager today has the authority under the declaration of restrictions to immediately request board action,” he said. “None of that today applies to short-term rentals. There is nothing in our governing documents that controls short-term rentals or enables us to regulate them in any way. That’s why this started out.”

More than 100 people – including several short-term rental owners – participated in Saturday’s virtual board meeting, and comments from the public regarding proposed guidelines lasted nearly two hours. Property owner Wendy Ballenger-Subasic said a vast majority of rental properties in Ocean Pines caused no issues. She added that most renters contributed a large amount of revenue to the community each year.

“I feel like the good is being punished by a few bad apples,” she said.

Resident Mike Lombardi agreed. He questioned the impact the proposed guidelines would have on current, and future, homeowners.

“I think we’re overcorrecting for the sins of a few, and penalizing everyone,” he said.

Community members also questioned permitting fees and the implementation date of the proposed regulations.

“If there is a rule change of this nature, to make it effective immediately hurts the season …,” one property owner said. “If we were to implement these rules for this season, I would literally have to cancel every single one of my rentals for the whole season. It would adversely affect my income.”

Representatives from the Coastal Association of Realtors also attended Saturday’s board meeting. In a letter issued last week, President Joni Williamson urged the board to reconsider the proposed rental guidelines. In addition to concerns over the number of parking spaces, the group also took issue with the proposed occupancy limits.

“By regulating who can live in a home you as an Association are infringing on a homeowner’s right to fair housing,” the letter reads. “You are legislating who can live in a home and who can not and what their marital and family status has to be. You are violating a homeowner’s fundamental private property rights. By creating this ordinance you are going to discourage people from buying homes in Ocean Pines. They are instead going to look to other beach communities. This will lead to home prices dropping, business closing, and your property losing value.”

Daly told community members the proposed guidelines were a compromise between two extremes: to do nothing to address short-term rental issues, or to ban short-term rentals altogether.

“We tried to draft something that was in the middle,” he said. “If someone has a different idea, now would be a great time to come up with it … Not only would it be welcome, but refreshing if someone had a different approach.”

Officials said a town hall meeting on the proposed short-term rental guidelines will be held April 17 at 9 a.m., with a vote to follow at the April 21 board meeting.

“The board does appreciate the comments and involvement the community has shown today on this issue,” Perrone said. “Again, we look forward to the town hall meeting. You’ve given this board a lot of things to consider today, and we will look at some of these issues before we get to the town hall.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.