Are vacation rentals hurting St. Augustine's image?

Residents divided on short-term rentals

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – About a dozen residents took the opportunity to speak during a St. Augustine commission meeting Monday night, voicing their concerns about vacation rentals.

While the business may be a good source of income, some neighbors have said rentals are costing the city some of its character. Restrictions for vacation rentals in the city are already in place, but there's talk about adding more to the list.

Some of the main concerns regarding the vacation rentals include more street parking, more noise, loss of familiarity with neighbors and loss of a sense of community.

Most of those who were opposed to short-term rentals favor regulation.

“I am finally moving, but unfortunately it’s out of Lincolnville," said Brian Funk. "I want to live in a place with heart. When you run a commercial business in these neighborhoods, it loses its texture. It loses heart."

"It’s nonowner-occupied short-term rentals that are the real issue," said Burry Gowen, who lives in St. Augustine. "Every time a neighbor moves out and one of those takes over, it’s like punching a hole in the fabric of the neighborhood."

The latest numbers show there are currently more than 400 vacation rental properties in the city, with the most being in Lincolnville and Davis Shores.

Among the rules right now: Any one- or two-family homes rented more than four times a year are restricted to a seven-day minimum rental. Owners can't rent out to more than 20 people at a time.

Some told the commission they don't want regulation and support the city looking at all the options. Others just want the opportunity to rent in a respectful, profitable way.

"Our guests at Airbnb review us, so it’s imperative that I keep up my home so I can continue to make the money that I want to," said Susan McClure, who lives in St. Augustine.

"I think there needs to be a greater understanding of what vacation rentals do for the area," said Bill Conley, a St. Augustine resident. "I think the discussion needs to be had. I just don’t think, in the end, they need to put a bunch of regulations on and impose it on the industry."

The potential regulations include registering all short-term vacation rentals, limiting the number of guests, requiring on-site parking, prohibiting special events at the vacation rental and requiring general liability insurance.

The commission wants to form a seven-person committee that will look into regulating the short-term rental industry in St. Augustine. Applications for that are due Wednesday, and appointments to the committee are expected to be made in two weeks.

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