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Santa Barbara County Planning Commission OKs Vacation Rentals in Agricultural Zones

Santa Barbara County Planning Commissioners are in favor of banning short-term vacation rentals in residential zones, but the majority of them found a soft spot this week for rentals operating on larger parcels in unincorporated areas of the county.

With a split 3-2 vote, the commission directed staff Wednesday to draft an ordinance allowing short-term rentals on all agricultural zoned lands, including land in agricultural preserve contract.

Commissioners Cecilia Brown and Marell Brooks opposed the action in favor of further prohibiting the growing practice of renting a room or home for fewer than 30 consecutive days in the county from the Santa Maria Valley down to Carpinteria, according to associate county planner Jessica Metzger.

Planning officials unanimously voted in December to take a second look at ag zones, such as those in Santa Ynez Valley with multiple acres between a rental unit and a road or neighbor.

The decision came, in part, after hearing public testimony from Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals.

The managing company started 10 years ago and has 40 valley rentals on private properties ranging in size from 10 to 1,000 acres, according to owner and president Leanne Schlinger.

At that same meeting, the County Planning Commission voted 3-2 to have staff prepare a draft ordinance banning such rentals and home stays in residential zones, with commissioners Daniel Blough and Larry Ferini opposed.

A home stay is a unit rented with the property owner present throughout the stay.

Recommendations from the County Planning Commission and the Montecito Planning Commission — also in favor of banning short-term rentals in residential zones — will go before the County Board of Supervisors this spring for a final decision.

Supervisors directed county planners last year to host public workshops, gathering input so officials could create a zoning ordinance.

To date, the term “short-term vacation rental” doesn’t exist in county books.

The county has been requiring rentals to register and pay transient occupancy taxes regardless, collecting nearly $1.4 million in such levies in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to County Treasurer-Tax Collector records.

Since July 2015, records show 474 TOT certificates were issued in the county for short-term rentals. 

There are two ag land zone districts in unincorporated county areas, according to county staff.

The AG-I designation applies to prime and non-prime farmlands and agricultural uses located within urban, inner rural and rural neighborhood areas. AG-II applies to agricultural lands and uses in rural areas. 

Most commissioners approved rentals operating in both zones as well as agricultural preserve program land, which covers approximately 550,000 acres and represents 75 percent of all privately held county ag lands.

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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