ASHLAND — The Ashland City Council had too many unanswered questions on Tuesday night about relaxing vacation rental rules in town and will take up the issue again during a study session on Aug. 19.
Spurred by the growth of websites that connect homeowners with tourists, many Ashland residents have begun renting out their homes for short stays — often illegally.
Mayor John Stromberg said questions remain about whether allowing more vacation rentals will cause parking problems, reduce the availability of housing for long-term renters who want to live in Ashland and negatively affect local bed-and-breakfast inns.
Councilors said they also need more input from stakeholders, including people operating vacation rentals illegally who are afraid to come forward, and members of neighborhoods who may be affected but are not aware that potential changes are being discussed.
The Ashland Planning Commission and planning department staff have recommended allowing vacation rentals in multifamily zones in Ashland's four historic districts, which include the downtown and many surrounding streets.
Owners of potential vacation rentals in the historic districts would have to go through a planning process and secure conditional use permits.
Vacation rentals currently are allowed in multifamily zones if the homes used are within 200 feet of major streets.
The Planning Commission also had suggested that the council direct commissioners to study the issue of allowing vacation rentals in single-family zones, which are typically filled with houses rather than apartments and other buildings commonly found in multifamily zones.
However, a majority of councilors on Tuesday night said they were not interested in allowing vacation rentals in single-family zones.
In a Mail Tribune story on Monday, Abi Maghamfar, innkeeper of Abigail's Bed & Breakfast and the president of the Ashland Lodging Association, said the association is adamantly opposed to allowing vacation rentals in single-family zones.
The association includes hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast inns and legal vacation home rentals.
Maghamfar said that people who buy homes in single-family zones want to live in stable neighborhoods without business activities going on.
"People want to know who their neighbors are. With a vacation home rental, the people next door change on a weekly basis," he said. "People don't get to know their neighbors. If you allow everyone to rent their homes out to tourists, you have a town that acts like a motel everywhere."
Allowing too many vacation rentals would cut into the supply of housing available to long-term renters, Maghamfar said.
"People who work in Ashland want to live here. If they can't afford to buy a home, they look for a rental. When rentals are taken out of the supply, people are forced to live in other towns," he said.
The city has collected information on about 70 properties where there is suspected illegal vacation rental activity, according to a city staff memo to councilors.
Of those, about 45 are in single-family zones, the memo said.
The city was able to collect background information on 40 illegal vacation rental homes and found that 16 previously had been used for long-term rental housing, the memo said.
Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.