EDITORIAL City took good steps with short-term rental ordinance
Good things come to those who wait.
Well that might be a bit dramatic given the topic, but city officials in Ely can rightly be proud of the work that led to approval Tuesday of a short-term rental ordinance.
The vote this week was the culmination of roughly two years of research, investigation and discussion of the issue.
One local official often jokes about things progressing “at the speed of government,” and that was clearly the case here as the city moved tediously to come up with a plan that best serves Ely.
But there was no pressing need to jump the gun and rush to come up with a half-baked solution or plan. At first glance, it looks like the city got this one right.
There’s no doubt that market demands have changed the landscape of lodging across the country.
Websites such as airbnb.com and vrbo.com have taken off, giving visitors to urban areas and rural communities the option to rent private homes or apartments.
It’s no surprise that the trend has made its way to the Ely area.
In addition to the traditional hotel experience, resorts and motels, campgrounds and bunkhouses, Ely visitors desire the vacation home experience and some property owners have wisely capitalized.
Whether they’re part-time residents looking to make use of their property when not in town or entrepreneurs hoping to make a few extra bucks, they’ve recognized that there’s an existing and perhaps growing “VRBO” and “AIRBNB” market in Ely.
Government entities have caught on across the nation as well, and Ely has joined others in looking for the right trade-off or balance amid often competing interests.
The ordinance now in place in Ely seems to have found that balance and indeed gets the city in front of the curve.
Commercial lodging operators are right to seek an equal playing field and the city regulations do just that, ensuring that any would-be short-term rental operator be permitted and subject to safety and other regulations. And like the motels and hotels, they must collect sales and lodging taxes.
It’s one thing to have homes here or there that are rented out by the day or week during Ely’s summer season, but quite another to have your neighborhood full of mini-motels.
The ordinance, as amended before passage, gives the city council the authority to review how things are going on an annual basis and determine just how many homes in Ely may be allowed for short-term rentals.
After thorough review, the city’s planning commission came up with what appeared to be a very reasonable limit of 35 permits, including a maximum of 10 for the R-1 zoning district and 15 for R-T districts.
Those numbers will instead be set annually, but the initial legwork provides a good base from which the council to start and see how things progress.
There are other strong points to the ordinance, including a demand that each unit have a manager or point of contact so that the city may reach somebody within hours should a problem arise. It eases concern about absentee landlords or profiteers.
A minimum parking requirement also makes sure that neighborhoods aren’t overtaken by vehicles from a nearby rental.
All of these factors provide oversight yet cater to the new reality of lodging and allow for the community to capture new revenue.
The popularity of the vacation home websites is in part a response to a change in the vacation marketplace.
Some travelers don’t want to camp or sleep in a tent. Families, or groups of families, may not want that hotel or resort experience but want to experience Ely nonetheless.
And if they can’t find the lodging option they want here, there are other communities, other marketplaces, where they can go and be accommodated.
It’s not an either-or proposition and Ely can accommodate this existing faction of travelers while maintaining what was already here.
The city recognizes that and deserves kudos for approving the short-term rental ordinance.
They’ve made it easier for property owners to make money and for visitors to enjoy the area.
How’s that for a win-win. And even though it took two years, it was worth the wait.