Regarding the proposed changes to Ashland's traveler's accommodation conditional use ordinance:
1. The provision that one person can only own one vacation rental is unenforceable since forming LLCs, putting title in other family members names, etc. can and will be done to get around this. Well-heeled investors will buy up multiple properties without any regard for this provision. If a provision is unenforceable it may as well not be there.
2. The city foresees a need for a provision that requires someone be able to respond to a problem a guest may have within 30 minutes. How will this be enforced? Who will enforce it? What will the penalty be? Will these people be required to be licensed property managers or could it be the high school kid next door? In any case this provision will inevitably be ignored, grossly lowering the expectations for a high-quality experience that our visitors have long enjoyed. Again, if a provision is unenforceable it may as well not be there. The current requirement that the proprietor of the property reside on the premises has worked great up to now for this purpose which leads me to the next issue.
3. I would like to know where the notion came from that there is some kind of pent up, unmet demand for properties that do not have the owner residing on the property. The 40-, 50-, 60-yea-old OSF veteran ticket holders appreciate that there is someone around if they have a problem or need a recommendation for a good restaurant when they come for their annual pilgrimage. There may be groups looking to have a toga party and if that's the kind of thing you want going on next door then by all means get rid of that condition. Dropping the requirement that these properties be owner occupied is perhaps the key to completely opening the door for out-of-area investors and others to eventually overwhelm the short-term rental market. "I know people that make $60K a season" said the Realtor to the Bay Area baby boomer. Ashland will become a town full of empty houses with a glut of vacation rentals where the incentive to provide a consistent, quality experience for our visitors will evaporate because it will no longer be profitable to do so. The obvious side effect of this is the destabilizing, destructive effect it will have on property values as all this plays out over the years.
4. My worst fear is that by the time the city realizes their mistake the damage done will be irreversible and the character and charm that people come to Ashland to enjoy will be reduced to a fond/bitter lament about how things used to be. "Everything was great until they decided to fiddle around with the rules. Who were those guys and what were they thinking?"
5. In conclusion, by passing these changes the city council sends the message that if someone complains about noncompliance of city ordinances the city just changes the ordinance. This rewards those who violate the ordinances. The trouble is that more really unenforceable provisions are being proposed that, if adopted, will lead to an inevitable, devastating and irreversible chain of events. If it's not broken, for God's sake don't break it. Just enforce the rules as they are and the city will benefit from increased revenue, the integrity of neighborhoods will remain constant, the quality of our travelers' accommodations will remain high, our businesses healthy and property values strong. The best thing that has come out of this discussion is the idea of passing an ordinance making it illegal to advertise nonlicensed properties. This is a simple solution to what was the original issue.
Steve Larson lives in Ashland.