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Decoding the Code
Ann Gardner | Via Latina

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As this Sandpiper is being delivered to your mailbox, City Council is moving forward to resolve the controversial short term rental issue. On April 17 the Council voted 4 to 1 that their interpretation of Del Mar’s Municipal Code does not allow short term rentals in the City’s residential zones, with the exemption of the residential commercial zone. The vote followed conscientious public input that generally focused on interpretation of the Municipal Code and the 1976 Community Plan (as a guiding document), not the pros and cons of rentals of less than 30 days.

The interpretation vote was described as a “baseline” from which the Council will take the next step at their May 1st meeting. At that meeting the Council will begin to decide if they want to maintain the current “baseline” or if the Council wants to amend the Code and General Plan to allow some form of short term rentals in some residential zones. The Council seemed to agree that it is not their intention to “ban” short term rentals altogether but to see if there are ways to “participate in the sharing economy” that not only does not negatively impact the City’s primary residential character, but preserves it.

New short term rentals were put on hold with an April, 2016 moratorium that has been extended several times by the Council; the current moratorium expires on February 2, 2018 and cannot be extended again. Short term rentals in existence before the moratorium was enacted can continue to operate for now. Council “reassured” members in the audience who operate short term rentals that the April 17 interpretation does not mean the City was going to shut down these rentals immediately. In fact, Councilmember Worden said that if the Council with community input determines that some current STRs in residential zones will not be allowed to continue, a “soft landing” for the owners should be worked out.
Public testimony was fairly evenly divided between those who felt the Municipal Code could be interpreted to allow STRs in the residential zones and those who did not. The former cited mention of transient uses (e.g. students and race track employees and patrons) in the Community Plan, unfettered past practice and an unrealistic expectation that every use must be specifically outlined in order to be permitted under the City’s “permissive zoning” policy. Ivo Feierabend, longtime resident whose children own and visit at a short term beach rental, pleaded that the banning of STRs would cause “harm to the community ethos.”

The other side testified that the “plain language” of the Code explicitly states that residential zones are for one family development, that the word dwelling is defined in the code as used exclusively for residential purposes and implies stay of some permanence. Council noted that residential use includes occupants getting their mail at that location, registering to vote and paying utilities while visitors return “home” after a short term stay. Beach resident David Doyle presented legal decisions citing that lack of enforcement does not create a right to continue a non-conforming use, refuting the case for historical precedent.

Mayor Sinnott voted against the motion advocating instead for a regulatory approach to short term rentals that are, in his opinion, neither allowed nor not allowed by the Municipal Code. However the majority felt it was important to make the interpretation before they could consider regulating or permitting short term rentals when there is disagreement in the community over whether or not they are even an allowed use.



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