Public Notice: "A Failed Experiment"

Planning Commission blasts Type 2 STRs


Capital Metro's Downtown Transit Station

The city Planning Commission on Tuesday night sent the strongest possible message to City Council with their recommendations regarding short-term rental regulations. After surprisingly concordant discussion, the PC voted unanimously (!) to recommend not just the full slate of recommended code revisions to tighten regulation of Type 2 (commercial) STRs, but also a commitment to phasing STR 2s out of residential areas altogether within five years.

At this point it appears that only Mayor Steve Adler's absence from this week's meeting can save, or at least delay, Council's move to roll back STR 2s; the mayor had keen interest in seeing this resolved, and might be peeved at not having input in the final stages, as he attends a mayors' meeting at Harvard. (Indeed, at press time, it appears likely the final vote won't come until January.) But interestingly, much of the strongest rhetoric Tuesday evening came from his two appointees to the commission.

Commission chair Stephen Oliver started it off when he framed the discussion as being about the commission wanting to "send the clear message" to City Council that "we do not believe this is an appropriate use in single-family areas." Adler's other appointee, James Shieh, left little doubt where he stood: "I think it's something that should be phased out. ... STR 1s, no problem; STR 2s I think we do need to phase out."

Greg Casar is considered a swing vote at Council, but his appointee, Jose Vela, was outspoken as well: "That's my conclusion [on STR 2s], is that it's just not an appropriate and compatible use. And so from a larger planning perspective, we have to move in that direction. I mean, maybe the enforcement tweaks will give Code some better tools to crack down on rogue operators, but at the end of the day, I just don't see this solving the problem. ... This is something completely and totally different – STR 2s; STR 1s I'm fine with – STR 2s ... to me, it's not compatible in a residential neighborhood."

But the bluntest assessment came from Tom Nuckols (Ann Kitchen): "I think it's time to call this for what it is: Type 2s are a failed experiment. They didn't work out. It's time to just sever the Gordian knot, and phase them out. The people who have invested money in Type 2s, I'm confident ... they will be able to recoup whatever investment they made by returning these Type 2s to the housing market."

As the above quotes would indicate, Tues­day's meeting was also the clearest statement to date of the sharp regulatory divide between Type 1 (owner-occupied), and Type 2 (commercial use only; no one living there) STRs. Commis­sion­ers took turns emphasizing that none of what they were discussing should pertain to Type 1s: residents renting out spare rooms or granny flats, or their whole house while they leave for vacation. Of course, those were intended to be exempt from regulation altogether, back under the PC's original recommendation three years ago, before the ordinance was butchered on the council dais. Had the previous council just listened to the PC back then, we wouldn't be in the mess we've been in all year. And if the current council listens to the PC this time around, we'll be done with the mess in another short five years.

A new, permanent Downtown Transit Station is slated to open in 2018 outside the Austin Convention Center. The salient features include moving the station a block east of where it is now, and turning that section of West Fourth Street into a car-free "public/transit plaza." Come get a free taco, and hear Capital Metro staff talk about their plans: Friday, Dec. 11, 11:30am-1:30pm, at the Austin Convention Center, 4th Level, Room 11AB (at the top of the Fourth Street escalators).

Following last month's CodeNEXT Sound Check, the city will hold its first follow-up meeting this Tues­day, Dec. 15, 4-7:30pm, at Pleasant Hill Branch Library, 211 E. William Cannon. Representatives from Opticos Design will be there, discussing "Sound Check, Code Diagnosis, Re-write Approach, etc." See more info at www.austintexas.gov/fullcalendar.

The Lamar Beach Master Plan covers about 65 acres of parkland along the north shore of Lady Bird Lake, from Lamar Boulevard, west to Austin High School: YMCA and WAYA athletic fields, Austin Pets Alive Adoption Center, the Texas Rowing Center, plus the hike-and-bike trail, and the bikeway. The Austin Parks and Recreation Dept. will host its second public meeting on the plan on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 6:30-8:30pm in the Austin High cafeteria, at 1715 W. Cesar Chavez. For more info, see www.austintexas.gov/department/lamar-beach-master-plan.

Capital Metro, Whole Foods Market, and the Capital Area Food Bank jointly invite the community to "Stuff the Bus" with non-perishable food items to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas: Fri.-Sun., Dec. 11-13, at all five Austin-area Whole Foods Market locations with Capital Metro buses parked at the Downtown, Domain, and Arbor Trails locations from 10am to 6pm daily. Monetary and product donations will also be accepted at all locations during regular store hours. The Food Bank encourages donations of healthy, non-perishable food items, such as canned meats like tuna, stew, and chili; canned vegetables; pasta, and pasta sauce; beans; healthy cereals; non-fat dry milk powder; and peanut butter. More at www.capmetro.org/stuffthebus.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

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