By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Following a contentious public hearing Tuesday, Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray said he will recommend dropping plans to amend the town's vacation rental law.
The hearing at Town Hall lasted two hours with neither the opponents of vacation rental homes or their owners giving an inch on the topic, rehashing past arguments.
"Because of the input I have received, I have recommended that we pull back the amendment and reconsider," Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray wrote Wednesday in an op-ed piece in this week's Island Dispatch.
McMurray proposed an amendment to a law passed last year by the board that outlawed short-term "tourist homes, vacation homes, transient rentals, whatever you want to call it." The law, passed last year, before three new board members took office, included a sunset provision that gave operators until September before they had to close.
"The new law only amends that portion of the law, that sunset provision," McMurray said before the hearing. The vacation homes "are illegal. They will remain illegal under the new law," he said, but the new law would be amended to allow existing properties owners to operate "under strict new guidelines" on such nuisances as noise, parking, and the like. For those neighbors to the tourist homes who have raised quality-of-life complaints, McMurray said the intent of the proposed amendment is to "weed out the bad actors, the so-called party homes."
A registration fee would fund the new law and increase policing and monitoring, he said. Town Attorney Peter Godfrey said, "This does not change the fundamental aspect of the local law adopted by the board that eliminated tourist homes." He said the amendment would use a framework of performance standards to ensure the homes are run in "a manner that's not detrimental to the neighbors."
McMurray said this is "not a free for all ... but the opposite."
Opponents of the rental homes weren't buying it and they insisted the town enforce its code that would ban such homes in residential districts.
"This is strictly about putting them in residential districts," said tourist home opponent Randall White. The short-term renters, who change every 72 hours, and absentee owners are not residents, he said. "A residential neighborhood works when it's residents next to residents."
Bob Fahning, who with his wife owns a vacation rental, favored the law as good for the community and good for businesses. He objected to comments that the owners of vacation homes were acting illegally and pointed out the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the rental home operators who sued the town, and the town subsequently passed a new law - "a reaction to our Supreme Court decision" - that he called "sour grapes from losing in Supreme Court."
"We were right then, and we're right now," Fahning said. "There was nothing against it, so we knew we were right, and it turns out we were."
Both supporters and opponents promised legal action.
"If we have to go back to Supreme Court again, I will," Fahning said. "I don't care. I don't want to. I would rather see these regulations come in to play and run a real tight ship so that if we do have a bad actor we get him out of here."
White said by grandfathering existing tourist homes, the board protected some over others. When McMurray mentioned legal consequences in board decisions, White responded, "I can promise it, either way."