Anna Maria struggles to regulate rentals

ANNA MARIA -- Converting single family homes into vacation rentals is a problem in the city of Anna Maria.

The Anna Maria Commission said Wednesday the practice is damaging the quality of life for many residents. Commissioners have struggled to craft legislation to regulate the practice.

Commissioners discussed adding a restrictive covenant to the new building moratorium passed Sept. 22, which prohibits issuing building permits for new structures with four or more rooms that could be used as bedrooms.

The move is a way for city officials to restrict short-term rentals, which critics say has eroded the quality of life in two residential zoning districts, R-1 and R-2. R-1 covers most of the city, while R-2 covers homes in a perpendicular strip on the eastern side.

The restrictive covenant states the city will issue building permits during the moratorium only to property owners who voluntarily agree not rent or lease to others outside their families for periods of less than 30 days.

Commission Chairman Chuck Webb said his inclination is not to regulate the bedrooms of Anna Maria residents.

"The 'buts' are what happens when those structures -- when they turn them into vacation rentals? What happens when someone lies to us and tell us it's going to be a residential property and it immediately turns it into a vacation rental?" said Webb.

Building planner Alan Garrett said it gets "really slippery" when officials talk about limiting bedroom uses. He said it might be better to look at the issue from an occupancy standpoint saying legislation should indicate only so many occupants would be allowed in a house per square foot.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn brought up documents from Winchester, Va., which has a chart of standard bedroom sizes.

"Other cities are doing it," she pointed out.

During an Oct. 1 meeting, commissioners decided to seek a legal judgment on whether short-term rentals are allowed in their two residential zoning districts.

Their quest for this answer does not sit well with everyone.

Scott Rudacille of Blalock Walters emailed city commissioners Wednesday describing the action as "improper."

"The City cannot change its interpretation without notice, ignore its own Code Enforcement process, arbitrarily single out a property owner, and then file suit against them for conducting a use that is lawful," his letter states. "These actions violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses on multiple levels, which exposes the City to the potential for punitive damages and attorneys' fees."

Nancy Manali-Leonardo, a former resident visiting her parents, attended the meeting.

"I think that we're seeing a large crowd show up today because the residents are concerned that ... one of the reasons that they're still on this island is because it's a nice, quiet family place," she said. "And we want it to stay that way."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.