Eight red lights

Council rejects proposed Airbnb ordinance 8-0

The proposed ordinance to regulate short-term rentals in Webb City was fully rejected 8-0 Monday by the Webb City Council. That was after it was earlier rejected 3-2 by the Planning and Zoning Commission and appealed by the City to the council.

“At this point it (the council bill) dies and we go back to a dysfunctional system,” said Mayor Lynn Ragsdale. 

“This is done,” agreed City Attorney Troy Salchow. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t start over.”

Ragsdale said, “We will be forced to address this again.”

The city code book does not specifically regulate short-term (less than 30 days) rental properties, commonly referred to as Airbnbs, after the popular Airbnb website. A boarding house is the closest thing to it in the code book.

There are airbnbs in Webb City “flying under the radar” until there are complaints. At that point, the owner of the house will typically request a special use permit and business license ($25 fee).

So far, two short-term rental special use permits have been approved. A third request was canceled when it was realized the home owners association contract in that subdivision doesn’t allow Airbnbs.

And then just last week, P&Z denied a request for a special use permit at 1401 Matthew Circle, which is for rent as an Airbnb.

The rejection was based mostly on opposition by neighbors. Their complaints centered on the house’s ability to host a large number of people.

Police Chief Don Melton confirmed his department had responded to fireworks being set off by renters at 1401 Matthew Circle. He added there have been an unusual number of calls at other addresses on Matthew Circle. It’s possible, he said, that some of those calls were to addresses where residents were complaining about behavior at 1401 Matthew Circle.

Fire Chief Andrew Roughton also confirmed his department had been called because of a fire caused by fireworks but it had been put out by the time the crew arrived.

Nathan Bemo, the owner of 1401 Matthew Circle, is to appear in Municipal Court on Sept. 21 on a charge of nightly rental without a business license.

Roughton said the problem of how to address short-term rentals is nationwide because of a lack of codes for properties between hotels and houses. If Airbnbs were classified as a business, he said he could require such things as carbon monoxide detectors.

Kaitlin Owens, who lives next door to 1401 Matthew Circle, represented other residents at the P&Z public hearing and at the council meeting.

She said the crux of the matter is that the Airbnb is “set up to be a party house. It’s an event center in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

She said she saw the ordinance as the “best shot not to keep fighting it.”

Former council member Josh Hensley also addressed the council members during the public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting. He called their attention to the “level of anger” that was expressed by neighbors at the P&Z meeting.

“Where did you fail these people?” Hensley asked. “Before you make a new law you should consider enforcement of existing laws.” He added that the new law would hold the landlord accountable for the tenants’ actions.

Francis said the main goal of the proposed ordinance was to “take the burden off the neighborhood” of whether to allow a short-term rental and “turn it into an administrative process to protect the neighborhood.”

The way the proposed ordinance was written, all neighbors within 185 feet of the address would be notified by mail and asked to reply if they object to the operation of a short-term rental. If 30% objected, the city administration would deny the applicant’s request for the required business license.

Jonathan Shull (3rd Ward) said a problem with that is that a good percentage of people don’t know what an Airbnb is. There has been a suggestion that the percentage for denial be raised to 50%.

“I feel this (proposed ordinance) isn’t ready for prime time yet,” Shull said. “Why are we in such a hurry.”

Debbie Darby (4th Ward) said, “We want to get it right the first time.”

After several proposed changes were outlined, Jim Dawson (4th Ward) said, “We’re not ready to take this on.”

In the meantime, Francis said there have already been two more requests for special use permits to operate short-term rentals.

Shull also requested that the proposed ordinance be sent back for review by the P&Z or that the council hold a work session.

“Why can’t we have a work session?” asked Alisa Barroeta (2nd Ward).

Ragsdale said the unusual amount of discussion devoted to the issue during regular session was similar to a special session.

Property tax levy increases slightly

The council approved the 2022 property tax levy as calculated by the Jasper County Assessor’s Office. No one spoke at the public hearing.

The total levy is going up $0.018 per $100 assessed valuation, from $0.6869 to $0.7049. It is broken down to $0.3710 for the general fund, $0.2498 for the library fund, and $0.0841 for the park fund.

Total assessed valuation in the city has increased by $8,217,878 to $139,057,870. Less than 1% of the increase is because of reassessment.

There has been $11,550,030 in new construction, compared to $2,774,110 last year.

It is anticipated that the total tax levy will generate $81,479 more for the city than last year.

In other action:

• A special use permit request by Tom Harter to operate a short-term rental at 520 S. Ball St. was accepted on first reading. There has been no opposition to it.

• Jerry Fisher (3rd Ward) said he couldn’t resist commenting on the latest sales tax receipts. The four sales taxes (general 1 cent, transportation 1/2 cent, storm water-parks 1/2 cent, and capital improvements 1/4 cent) and 1/4-cent use tax have generated $602,913 more than they did last year at this time. The use tax increase is the greatest percentage-wise. It’s up 31.44% above last year. While the sales taxes are up in the 10% range.