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Hancock council passes zoning amendment

City of Hancock Zoning map for the City of Hancock. The changes to the zoning ordinance primarily effect the R-1 residential district, shown in pale yellow. R-1 is labeled “one family” in the legend.

HANCOCK — The City Council of Hancock passed an amendment to their zoning ordinance concerning a “housesitting” exemption and short term rentals at their regular Wednesday meeting. The vote was 6-1, with Councilor Ron Blau as the dissenting vote.

During public comment, one person raised concerns with the change in the language concerning short term rentals. While Councilor John Haeussler, who proposed the amendment, described the change as one reflecting the council’s original intention, the commenter felt it was different from how she had interpreted it.

The original ordinance language stated that for a short term rental in an R-1 district, “the owner must be on premises at time of rental.”

“Time of rental means time of check-in,” the commenter, Karla Aho said.

The amended language states that for the same properties, they “must be Owner Occupied and the Owner reside on the Premises for the duration of the Rental.” (capitalized words indicate legal descriptions specific to the ordinance).

Aho suggested the definition of premises should be looked at, because she hoped to operate a short term rental on the property next to hers, and wasn’t sure if she would be allowed to under these regulations.

During council discussion, Haeussler said he would not have voted in favor of an ordinance that only required the owner to be there for check-in.

“That was a deal-breaker for me,” he said. “That the owner has to be there in an R-1 district while the tenant is there for a short term rental.”

Councilor Whitney Warstler said she had disagreed with the stipulation in question.

“I think if someone has a rental license,” she said, “they should be able to rent however they seem[sic] is best.”

Councilor Will Lytle agreed that while the language only applied to the R-1 district, he would prefer that it hadn’t been included.

“But I believe that the rest of the amendments and moving forward with the rental ordinance overall is worth that compromise,” Lytle said.

Initially, he said that he didn’t think it was within the ordinance for two separately-taxed, adjacent lots to be considered a single premise, but it might be another exemption to consider. He thought it may be a way of maintaining community ownership but also avoiding vacant, unrentable buildings.

“I don’t want a corporation to be able to come in and buy three buildings and put one landlord on a block for them,” Lytle said. “But I understand Carla’s situation and hope that we can figure out a way to support the responsible rental properties like them.”

Mayor Paul LaBine said he believed there was a fair amount of flexibility in the original ordinances, with variances that may allow for a plan like Aho’s. The council also began examining the definition of Premises in the ordinance, and if it would allow the owner of two neighboring lots in an R-1 district to be considered a single premise for the purposes of short term rentals.

“To me, it looks like it would say yes,” Lytle said. “And I think that fits maybe my personal goal for the residential rental ordinance, but I’m not sure if each individual council member would agree with that.”

Haeussler said he didn’t think that was the intent of the definition, but agreed that seemed to be how it was written.

“And it’s interesting that we hadn’t come up with this before until we had a citizen who’s in this situation really raise this issue,” he said.

He said that in consideration of the small number of cases this would likely apply to, he was comfortable letting it remain as it is. He said it would ultimately be between the code enforcement official and the person applying.

“I think the definition is fine,” LaBine said.

Blau said he would prefer to wait for more information about how big of a problem the situation could become.

“I wouldn’t like to pass something, knowing there’s going to be a problem,” he said.

He said he wanted to make sure the code enforcer, when hired, had clear direction on how to enforce the ordinance.

“I’m comfortable with not trying to hold this up based on this wording,” Haeussler said. “And I believe it’s going to actually work for Karla, who raised this question.”

Lytle, Councilor Rick Freeman Jr, Kurt Rickard, LaBine, Haeussler and Warstler voted in favor of the amendment, Blau against.

The amendment also added a “housesitting” exemption, which allows for a homeowner to have a non-family member stay at the house for a limited period of time without a rental license, provided the homeowner is not collecting rent. It also added definitions for campgrounds, dormitories, hotels, motels, and jails.

LaBine thanked the council for the good discussion and reminded everyone that they could revisit the ordinance again, if it became necessary.

“It’s always good not to just rubber stamp things, but to flesh things out as much as possible,” he said.

The city is also in the process of finding a code enforcer. City Manager Mary Babcock said the position would be posted.

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