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Montecito Planning Commission Supports Banning Short-Term Vacation Rentals

Montecito planning officials favored an all-out ban on short-term vacation rentals in residential zones during a discussion Wednesday, citing an all-or-nothing approach as easier to enforce than taking a middle ground.

The Montecito Planning Commission took its first look at the growing practice of renting a room or home for fewer than 30 consecutive days. The group’s input will be passed on to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for the final say in spring 2016.

Officials were specifically tasked with determining if the 120 rentals currently paying transient occupancy taxes to the county should cease operating what constitutes a business in noncommercial zones on the coast and inland.

“When you do overlay, then where does it stop?” Chair J’Amy Brown said of Commissioner Jack Overall’s initial hope that Miramar Beach rentals could continue operating as they have for many years.

“I think it’s still wiser to be black or white.”

The Montecito Planning Commission unanimously voted to back zoning ordinance language to ban short-term rentals, something that will be discussed again in early 2016.

Right now, the term “short-term vacation rental” doesn’t exist in county books, but the county collected nearly $1.4 million in TOT from more than 400 rentals in unincorporated areas during the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to County Treasurer-Tax Collector records.

Montecito planners presented a more united front against the rentals as “changing the fabric” of neighborhoods and taking affordable housing away from locals who need it.

Earlier this month, the County Planning Commission continued the item until Dec. 9 so staff could gather more information related to enforcement and whether certain neighborhoods, such as Miramar Beach, could be exempt.

Montecito commissioners took their time asking each public speaker questions about where they lived, how often they rent properties, what types of guests they allow and how long they typically stay.

Overall worried about revoking the rights to rent out properties on a short-term basis, especially for people near the coast who bought homes for the extra rental income.

“I would be really upset,” he said.

The Montecito Association came out in favor of the all-out ban, but the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors asked for a more careful approach.

Reyne Stapelmann, the association president, suggested commissioners adopt an ordinance similar to the city of Goleta, where short-term rental owners apply for business licenses, pay TOT and provide the city with nuisance response plans and contact information.

Commissioners couldn’t narrow down how many complaints have been made about rentals— authorities don’t parcel out those calls — and said they did sympathize with folks who needed the rental income.

Maybe if there’s proof of financial hardship, Overall said, an exemption could be made.

Commissioners ultimately decided not to differentiate between short-term rentals and home stays, which refer to renting out a portion of a home with the owner present during the stay.

“There’s just too much impact,” Brown said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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