Jacksonville looks at allowing short-term vacation rentals

JACKSONVILLE — Provisions to allow short-term vacation rentals will be considered for inclusion in planning-code revisions that will be unveiled next month in a town that some say lacks accommodations.

"A lot of people may want to have vacation rentals. We'll address that in the revised code," said city Planning Director Amy Stevenson.

Ashland's City Council is wrestling with how to handle such rentals as various factions weigh in on the debate. Those rentals, often found on the Internet, may not be approved or pay lodging tax.

"It's not a hot issue here," said Stevenson. "We have had some residents express a desire to do that."

An initial hearing on the proposed revisions, which will look at all aspects of planning including regulations in the historic district, tentatively will be held in late August.

The revisions will be subject to public review and consideration by the Historic and Architectural Review Commission and the Planning Commission. The City Council would need to approve any changes.

Legally approved accommodations collect and pay a lodging tax. Stevenson said city officials strive for equity, something that's missing with nonapproved units that are not subject to paying the lodging tax when they are rented.

"We are aware that it is happening," said Stevenson. "We survey Craigslist and VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) every once in a while. If we see someone and they don't have approval they usually hear from us. Usually they have to shut down because they can't comply."

Home owners and others can rent rooms and accessory dwellings for a minimum of 30 days. Bed and breakfast lodgings must be located within the town's historic district and be owner-occupied. Commercial lodging can operate in approved zones.

Jacksonville collects lodging taxes on 80 approved units, said city Treasurer Stacey McNichols. Of those, the Wine County Inn with 32-rooms adjacent to 5th Street entering town is the largest.

A review of three websites Wednesday showed about 20 listings, some being duplicates.

AirBnB had eight listings; three for approved in-town historic cottage rentals, four listed as near town and one on a 90-acre ranch. VRBO had nine listings with some of those approved. The status of the rest could not be determined. Craigslist showed eight short-term rentals.

Opinions varied on the need for more accommodations.

"I think it's a great idea," said Arlis Duncan, chamber of commerce president. "We don't have enough lodging in town. We can't have a conference here with 200 people in town. We'd like to have people come and visit."

Duncan rents out her approved vacation cottage, which she said is occupied most of the year.

"Most of the people that I personally know (renting accommodations) and those coming through the chamber are doing it on the legal basis," said Duncan.

Graham Farran of Expert Properties Inc. manages more than 20 furnished accommodations that he rents for a month or longer. He says he gets a lot of calls for shorter term stays that he cannot fulfill. But he's concerned about allowing such rentals in single family residential areas.

"I don't want to live next to a vacation rental," said Farran. "I don't think that would ever pass in Jacksonville."

During Britt Music Festival events, the city could use more accommodations, but at other times additional rooms might lack customers, said Farran.

Maryl Cipperly at the Chamber of Commerce's Visitors Center expressed similar concerns.

"We've got some great accommodations but they fill up so fast, especially when it's a Britt week," said Cipperly. "Last week I don't think you could buy a room here. In the winter, things slow down,"

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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