Hamilton council rejects short-term rental changes and bans for now

It’s expected the ban requests will be presented again before council in separate pieces of legislation.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The updates to Hamilton’s short-term housing rental licensing program have been delayed as a slim majority of the council voted down a proposal that included bans in two areas of the city.

Now, Hamilton City Council is expected to see three ordinances at a future meeting, one addressing some updates to the short-term housing rental program that, among other things, strengthens the penalties for violations, improves regulations around common problems like parking, trash and noise violations, and the posting of “quiet hours.” They’ll also see separate actions on banning short-term rentals in Highland Park and the Hickory Woods subdivision.

The measure last week was rejected because City Council members disagreed on the approach to take concerning the prohibitions. Some on the council were ready to vote on the prohibitions for both areas, while others wanted to vote on each action individually.

Hickory Woods’ HOA prohibits any short-term rentals in the small community, but Hamilton cannot enforce HOA rules, said Liz Hayden, the city’s executive director of Community Services. If someone chooses to knowingly violate the HOA rules, Hayden said the city cannot deny the application if they meet the city’s requirements.

Then there’s the issue with Highland Park, a 100-plus-year-old neighborhood known for its tree-lined streets that has some homes designed by well-known local architects Frederick Mueller and George Barkman. Owners of more than 330 homes petitioned the city to ban short-term rentals with some saying at the past two City Council meetings they fear potential problems, such as noise and parking, or crime, and others said they don’t want strangers temporarily staying in the neighborhood.

However, some Hamilton residents — including some who live nearby neighborhoods as well as Highland Park, own and operate short-term rentals — disagreed with what they called “fears.”

“I take pride in my (short-term rental) property, I give it the best attention and care as well as my home in Highland Park,” said Jordan Davis, who lives on Park Avenue with his fiancée and daughter. He said he’s capitalized on the city’s revitalization efforts and the draws like Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill “to provide my family a better quality of life.”

According to the city, there had not been any problems among the five short-term rentals that operate in Highland Park. Zero police calls had been made, though some residents offered complaints during the planning commission process. There were six calls on one short-term rental home in the Hickory Woods subdivision.

Lindenwald resident Frank Downie, who leads the community group PROTOCOL (People Reaching Out To Others: Celebrate Our Lindenwald), agrees with some of those in Highland Park who believe short-term rentals shouldn’t be in the historic neighborhoods. He calls short-term rentals as “transient housing” and “mini hotels.”

Downie wants to see short-term rentals be a conditional use, where people within a certain distance of a proposed short-term rental, have a say if it should be allowed.

“To me, it’s a simple solution,” he said. “It would be costly and it would be time-consuming for the administration here in the city, but I think if the benefits that we talk about are as great as we think they’re going to be, I think the time and the effort to be put into this will be well worth it.”

Some on City Council have talked about the economic benefits of short-term rentals, which they say would complement the current and planned hotels in Hamilton. Though Lauer voted “yes” on the legislation that included proposed short-term rental bans, he said he would like to see city staff investigate incentivizing areas of the city where short-term rentals could cluster.

“To me, it makes sense to put them in neighborhoods surrounding Spooky Nook, neighborhoods that are being redeveloped by North Hamilton Crossing, just to get some revitalization going in those neighborhoods,” he said.

If the city does ban short-term rentals in any given neighborhood, it won’t prevent the existing short-term rentals from operating, just future ones. However, Hickory Woods HOA is in a lawsuit against the owners of five properties in its subdivision for allegedly violating the association’s covenants not allowing short-term rentals.

The four council members who voted “no” wanted to either see the issues ― the program updates and the prohibition requests ― in separate pieces of legislation to consider and/or be provided more information.

Council member Carla Fiehrer, who voted “no” with members Susan Vaughn, Eric Pohlman and Michael Ryan, said there’s more information needed.

“It’s proven in the 11th hour that there’s a lot more research we need to do,” Fiehrer said, “and there are a lot more neighborhoods that want to come and try to do the same thing.”

Council member Tim Naab supported the legislation as written with the two bans on short-term rentals.

“I feel strongly that the Highland Park residents have spoken and asked council for an ordinance that supports their residential neighborhood,” he said. “I feel strongly that if the other 16 neighborhoods in the city of Hamilton wish to organize and come to us and say, ‘we wish this,’ ‘we wish that,’ whatever that language may be, that’s why we were elected, to represent our residents.”

There are just more than 440 Highland Park residents who live in 342 homes that signed the petition. The city staff said the impacted area of Highland Park ― the ban would not include the neighborhood sections of Eaton Avenue and Main Street ― has more than 700 homes. The 17Strong website indicates that nearly 1,670 residents live in Highland Park.

Hayden requested City Council members provide staff comments, questions and concerns so they can address the feedback and present again in three pieces of legislation. If there is a significant change, however, it may require a Hamilton Planning Commission review.

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