The Ashland City Council has agreed to explore loosening restrictions on vacation home rentals.
Councilors said Tuesday they are interested in allowing more such rentals in multifamily zones without the requirement of a proprietor being on site. They also want city laws to clearly state that owners of vacation home rentals must get business licenses and pay the city's 9 percent lodging tax.
The council voted to direct staff to prepare draft rule changes, which need to go through a public hearing process before the Ashland Planning Commission and then to the council for final approval.
Internet sites that allow owners to offer their homes to tourists for short stays have caused a boom in the vacation home rental industry.
Ashland allows vacation home rentals in multifamily zones with a proprietor on site, but bans such rentals in single-family housing zones, and councilors were not interested in changing that ban.
Vacation home rentals without proprietors on site are allowed in business zones.
Councilors heard testimony from people who rent out their homes or stay in vacation rentals that tourists are looking for the privacy and comfort of a home while traveling, without a proprietor in the way.
Resident Stacy Waymire said he and his business partners like to use vacation rentals several times a year in various cities, where they can stay together and do business planning.
"If we cannot find suitable homes to rent, we go elsewhere," he said.
Resident Pete Hawes said guests, especially those with kids and pets, want the privacy and relaxation of a home environment.
They are looking for a different experience than that provided by bed and breakfast inns or hotels, he said.
Local restaurants and shops likely would see a drop-off in business without vacation home rentals in town, Hawes said.
Resident Kim Blackwolf said renting out homes to tourists provides needed income for many people.
"These people are just trying to hang onto their homes," she said.
Resident Carolyn Shaffer also said the added income is important to homeowners and could benefit widows and widowers in Ashland, as well as households with unemployed people.
However, Ellen Campbell of Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast said there are already dozens of legally permitted vacation rental homes in Ashland and those are not up to full capacity.
Campbell questioned the need for a larger supply of legal vacation rental homes.
Meanwhile, the proliferation of illegal vacation home rentals in town is hurting legal rental owners, bed and breakfast inns, and hotels, she said.
Abi Maghamfar of Abigail's Bed and Breakfast said the legal lodging operations in town are licensed and inspected, and pay city hotel tax, commercial insurance rates, payroll taxes and many other added fees and costs.
He said there are too many undercover vacation rental operations in town.
"People are doing illegal activity and it needs to be stopped," Maghamfar said.
Councilor Dennis Slattery said the city is in a conundrum over the vacation home rental issue.
He said Ashland needs to find a middle ground, making sure that people who invest in lodging of all types and follow the rules are protected.
"We still need to be able to level the playing field," Slattery said.
The Ashland Housing Commission has voiced opposition to allowing more vacation home rentals in town, saying that could reduce the supply of housing for residents and drive up housing prices.
The Ashland Planning Commission has supported a limited loosening of restrictions.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.