Short-term rental proposal is bad for Ashland

The proposed land-use amendment by the Ashland Planning Commission to allow additional short-term home rentals, or STHR, in multi-family zones and the recommendation to explore "Seasonal Short-Term Home Vacation Rentals" in the single-family R-1 zone are fragmented, discriminatory and overall damaging to the community at-large.

In general, we do not see a need for more lodging supply by creating short-term home rentals because we already have an ample supply of homes and cottages that are legal and licensed as short-term rentals.

Code changes have long-term effects on the entire community and must be clear, concise and, above all, fair. Ashland's elected officials have taken an oath to serve the community and they need to do what is right for the community.

The amendment has several positive attributes, including new fire safety, licensing and advertising requirements. However, for the reasons outlined below, the Ashland Lodging Association Board of Directors finds the proposed ordinance amendment unnecessary.

  • There is no shortage of short-term lodging in Ashland. The demand for lodging, which primarily comes from the number of seats at the OSF theaters, is a fixed number. Licensed operators, who submit occupancy data to the city quarterly, show plenty of unsold capacity. Changes to city ordinance must be based on accurate and reliable data.
  • Zoning laws and their proper enforcement establish trust between homeowners, businesses and the city, and are critical to a healthy, thriving and happy community. The community at large trusts the zoning laws to keep safe their businesses and families, and their largest investment, their homes, and the rules should not be adjusted to meet individual demands.
  • The council's responsibility is to make laws that are clear, concise and enforceable. The laws should be applicable across the board and not prejudicially single out certain groups;
  • The knee-jerk reaction to amend the ordinance is primarily based on testimony the council has received from those homeowners who are violating the law, and they continue to operate even after the city sent them cease and desist letters in May 2012, 15 months ago.
  • This proposed ordinance discriminates against bed-and-breakfast owners in R-2 and R-3 zones and further creates an unfair condition by requiring them to live on-site while the proposed new STHR owners are not required to live on-site.
  • The proposed ordinance encourages absentee ownership and will attract investors who would not live in Ashland. Many of those who have testified for the change either own a second house or no longer live in Ashland. Ashland could easily become another Sun River, Aspen, Cape Cod or any of a number of communities that are virtual ghost towns when their "season" is over.
  • An unintended consequence of taking properties off the long-term rental market for the purpose of STHR has been clear for several years. Ashland workers are forced to live in other cities because monthly rentals are taken off the market and rented illegally as STHR.
  • Protectionism should not play a role in making laws. Every one of us knows someone or has friends who are operating an illegal lodging operation. Individual stories may tug at our hearts, but zoning decisions must be broad, clear and fair. City officials who have a conflict of interest should step down.
  • Zoning should not be adjusted to bail out individual homeowners going through economic hardship or to provide additional income for real estate investors.
  • Allowing short-term vacation rentals in the single-family R-1 zones is not only detrimental to the availability and affordability of both rental and ownership housing stock; it will forever change the integrity, livability, quality of life and character of the single-family residential neighborhoods.
  • Ashland citizens deserve safe and quiet neighborhoods, without excessive noise, traffic and parking issues; where they know and trust their neighbors and want to build long-term relationships.
  • Once the city allows vacation home rental business in single-family zones, how can it stop other type of businesses?

We ask that the City Council reject this proposal and direct Planning Department staff to work with valid local stakeholders such as Ashland Lodging Association, Ashland's Bed & Breakfast Network and the Planning and Housing commissions to come back with a comprehensive, clear and refined amendment with which all stakeholders agree. We further ask that the City Council wholly reject the Planning Commission's suggestion to consider further study of short-term home rentals in single-family zones and enforce the zoning laws on the books to stop illegal short-term rental activity.

Abi Maghamfar is president of the Ashland Lodging Association board of directors. Other board members are Lois VanAken, vice president; Corrine Lombardi, treasurer; Ellen Campbell, secretary; Crissy Barnett, Barbara Hetland and Annie Dunn.

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