Return home rule to Florida communities on vacation rentals

October 30, 2013 

Bean Point on Anna Maria Island, Oct. 13, 2013. MARC R. MASFERRER/mmasferrer@bradenton.com

The repeal of a Florida law that prevents local governments from regulating vacation rentals would allow communities to better deal with the noise, garbage and other issues that have diminished the quality of life in many neighborhoods. The 2011 law that stripped cities and counties of the power to control those properties infringed on the principle of home rule and allowed what amounts to commercial hotels in residential neighborhoods.

Except for some grandfathered exceptions, the state seized control of the market by banning local governments from "regulating, restricting or prohibiting" vacation rentals. Investors were quick to take advantage, building monstrous homes that could accommodate several dozen people.

Anna Maria Island cities became aghast at the new construction and the new problems from noisy revelers who paid little heed to the peace and tranquility of a community. As trash mounted and vehicles clogged neighborhoods, cities fought back with stricter zoning regulations to reduce the strain on residents. But those ordinances only govern new construction and do not address ongoing problems.

Gov. Rick Scott got an earful about the pressing issue from Manatee County leaders on Monday while at a breakfast gathering at the Peach's on Manatee Avenue West, and he appeared open to repeal. We hope that is indeed the case.

State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, told Herald reporter Sara Kennedy that he plans to file a bill to reverse the 2011 law -- to "let local governments make those decisions as opposed to the state pre-empting it." As the powerful chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and former House speaker, Thrasher holds great influence in Tallahassee. His advocacy of repeal holds considerable weight.

Two Bradenton Republicans in the House voted in favor of the bill two years ago, but Jim Boyd and Greg Steube should now side with disgruntled constituents, Manatee County government and cities in favor of repeal.

While the Legislature has a maddening habit of violating home rule by imposing burdensome restrictions on local governments, the vacation rental issue is one issue where the disruption of communities is too great.The cities of Holmes Beach, Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach are prime examples of places where bad law disarmed the citizenry from protecting their neighborhoods against toxic elements with little to no respect for common decency.

Tourism is Manatee County's top economic driver, and Anna Maria Island is the prime attraction. Since island governments recognize that value, we do not believe elected officials would react in a draconian way should the state return control of vacation rentals to cities and counties. We'd be the first to object should that occur.

There needs to be a better balance here, one that allows some restrictions. Who wants a party hotel next door to their home or even down the block?

State Sen. Bill Galvano introduced legislation last year to repeal the misguided law but then withdrew it over a procedural issue. In Monday's Herald report of the governor's breakfast meeting by reporter Charles Schelle, the Bradenton Republican pinpointed the problem: "When you pre-empt local control, there will always be those who take advantage of it or abuse it."

Anna Maria Island bears witness to this abuse. We urge Manatee County's legislative delegation to come out in favor of repeal of this law. As Galvano also stated: "We espouse the idea that government closer to the people is the best form of government ..." Indeed, bring home rule back on this issue.

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