The Ashland City Council has directed city staff members to draft an ordinance to loosen restrictions on homeowners who rent out space to tourists for short stays, but it remains to be seen whether the council will adopt any changes.
The council previously tasked the Ashland Planning Commission with investigating the issue. The commission did not make a recommendation to loosen rules but instead proposed changes that could lessen impacts if vacation rentals are allowed in single-family residential zones.
They are currently barred there, although homeowners often try to skirt the rules. Websites that connect travelers with homeowners have made it easier than ever for property owners to host tourists.
Planning Commission Vice Chairman Michael Dawkins said Tuesday there is concern that allowing more vacation rentals could cut into Ashland’s stock of traditional long-term rentals needed by residents.
The Ashland lodging industry largely opposes expanding vacation rentals into single-family residential zones earmarked for stand-alone homes. They are allowed in multifamily residential zones that accommodate apartment buildings.
But some homeowners in single-family zones said they need the added income from hosting tourists.
“This is a very highly charged issue,” Dawkins said.
Changes under consideration include allowing vacation rentals in single-family zones if owners are on site, allowing only one tourist accommodation of one to two bedrooms per home, requiring the tourist space to be within the home or attached to the home, and barring the provision of separate kitchen facilities.
Dawkins said the planning commission did not favor allowing tourists to rent out whole houses.
The planning commission also wants to keep detached buildings — sometimes called mother-in-law units — off-limits to tourists in single-family zones. Those buildings are meant to accommodate relatives and long-term renters.
As for barring separate kitchen facilities, Dawkins said, units with kitchens can be used by long-term renters.
Resident Ruth Resch said she favors allowing tourists to stay in single-family zones. A disabled senior citizen, Resch said renting out a bedroom in her home to tourists can help her remain financially solvent.
Resch said allowing people to have legal home-based lodging businesses helps to maintain economic diversity so that Ashland does not become an enclave only for the wealthy.
Councilor Pam Marsh said she likely will vote to loosen vacation rental rules when draft changes come back to the council for consideration.
Marsh said when single-family zones were created, people usually left home to go to work. Now, more people work from home because of the Internet and other changes.
“People are using their residences in a more multifaceted way,” she said.
Councilor Dennis Slattery said he is not in favor of allowing tourist stays in single-family zones because that use changes the character of neighborhoods.
“We made a promise to people who bought in R-1 zones,” he said of the relative peace and stability people expect in single-family zones.
Ashland Lodging Association member Ellen Campbell said there is no reason to allow tourist stays in single-family zones because lodging options — including vacation rentals of homes — are plentiful in other zones.
She said rental units in single-family zones need to be safeguarded for residents and Ashland workers. Changes would hurt long-term renters and many homeowners.
“It’s at the expense of renters and people who chose to buy in residential zones,” Campbell said.