ANNA MARIA -- The city of Anna Maria avoided possible litigation by reversing the enforcement of short-term rental violations, but some of the city's vacation rental businesses have already experienced blowback.
On Tuesday, city commissioners voted 3-1 to rescind a previous motion approved on Jan. 24 to enforce existing city restrictions on short-term rental properties. Commissioners called the Jan. 24 vote premature and agreed to begin meeting in weekly workshops on Thursdays to grapple with the short-term rental problem.
The Board of Commissioners will meet for their first workshop on short-term rentals at 6 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
Residents and commissioners have said excessive short-term rental properties have resulted in unwanted traffic and noise and are destroying the quality of life.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, Anna Maria Commissioner Chuck Webb informed the board that short-term rentals are already prohibited in Anna Maria, but the rule hasn't been enforced. Webb, an attorney, found the prohibition in the city's comprehensive plan and zoning code.
The plan and code require that all land-use elements be compatible with residential zones and a short-term rental is illegal. Webb then made a motion to force the city to enforce the code. The motion was passed, 4-1, and was met with resounding applause from a residents who crowded City Hall.
Under the motion, the city would resubmit land-use category forms to pre-existing property owners to clarify the intentional use of the property. Nonconforming properties would be subject to city enforcement.
Commissioner Dale Woodland was the only commissioner to vote against the motion on Jan. 24. He said the decision was a knee-jerk reaction to the pent-up frustration turned loose by residents during the meeting. He said the board did not have ample time to digest the information provided by Webb.
"Not only did I feel like I didn't know the information, my colleagues as well," he said. "The public hadn't seen it and didn't have a chance to see."
Woodland said the root of the issue is a disturbance of the peace when an abundance of vacationers come to Anna Maria.
"I have no problem with us having visitors," he said. "But it's our responsibility as a commission to control that when it does have a negative impact on the community."
Larry Chatt, owner of Island Real Estate on Anna Maria Island, warned commissioners of the financial ramifications of passing such a rule at the Jan. 24 meeting. Since that meeting, Chatt said several property owners have canceled their rentals agreements with his company.
"Many clients have told us they are no longer interested," he said.
Chatt said the ripple effect may last for weeks, even months.
"The financial repercussion is so far off the charts compared to the problem," he said.
Attorney Scott Rudacille, who represents property owners in Anna Maria, said he was prepared to file a lawsuit against the city before the commission reversed the motion Tuesday. Rudacille also attended the Jan. 24 meeting, and like Chatt, warned the commission of the consequences.
Rudacille referred to a lawsuit filed against the city of Venice challenging the constitutionality of its interpretation to categorize short-term vacation rentals as commercial properties that can't exist in residential zones. He said the lawsuit has cost the city millions in litigation fees.
"That's a major property right issue when you talk about limiting people's rights to rent their property," Rudacille said.
Chatt said many property owners in Anna Maria depend on income from renting their homes. He said some owners rent out property to offset their property expenses.
"There is a gray line between taking away property rights and keeping the character of the island," he said.
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams