Ocean City Today

‘Short-term rental’ action delayed

Without a clear definition, PZ will wait until fall before deciding how to proceed
By Greg Ellison | Feb 22, 2018
Source: File Photo

(Feb. 23, 2018) The murky waters surrounding regulation of short-term rentals in R-1 zoned neighborhoods will remain muddied this summer after further discussion generated little clarity during the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Tuesday.

The commission wrestled with defining permitted accessory uses in R-1 zones as it worked on updating the resort’s 2017 comprehensive plan during its meeting in early February.

Planning Director Bill Neville, while reviewing the outcome of a public hearing on the comprehensive plan during the City Council meeting the previous evening, said he has worked closely with local land use attorney Jon Bulkeley of Ayres, Jenkins, Gordy and Almand to define short-term rentals more precisely, but discovered case law precedents are limited.

Bulkeley said it became apparent that generating definitions for what constitutes a commercial use of residential property was not an advisable path forward.

“The idea of renting these residential homes in R and R-1 districts is not considered a commercial use under Maryland law,” he said.

Bulkeley said the Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Lowden v. Bosley from 2006 reached a clear conclusion on the topic.

“The commercial benefit to the landlord does not outweigh the actual residential use,” he said.

Still, Bulkeley noted since that court decision was handed down, the rise of online hosting platforms like Airbnb or VRBO has further complicated the topic.

“The mayor and City Council can, in fact, amend the zoning ordinance to … define far more clearly than it is now the idea of a short-term rental, and what [is permitted] in a R1 zone,” he said. “They have the ability to write a whole new zoning ordinance or just an amendment, but we need more research before we get to that point.”

Bulkeley also advised caution to avoid potential constitutional challenges based on limiting property rights.

The Coastal Association of Realtors raised a number of concerns about the possibility of defining short-term rentals as a commercial use in R-1 zone neighborhoods in a letter sent to the Planning Commission last Friday.

It also noted the Lowden v. Bosley decision and argued that prohibiting or limiting the duration or frequency of short-term rentals is beyond the scope of zoning authority.

Commission member Lauren Taylor said the current ordinance language is problematic.

“We just need to rewrite the ordinance,” she said.

Commission Chairwoman Pam Buckley said over the long run the community must unite to find the best solution for Ocean City, but in the short haul should remain vigilant to enforce current regulations.

“Hopefully the rental community agents will keep maintaining and checking the leases,” she said. “If all of our rules were followed, we would be in a great spot, but unfortunately that’s not happing right now.”

Although no changes are anticipated this year, Buckley said the discussion could possibly resume in the fall.

“I still have a commitment to this town and maintaining the R-1 sensibility that we still want people to live here,” she said.


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