Overlay district

A map shows the College and University Overlay District, which the city created in 2014 saying it would prevent incompatible development from taking over neighborhoods surrounding Baylor.

With the ink barely dry on a new city ordinance on short-term rentals, Baylor University is asking to ban such rentals in multifamily complexes near campus.

The Waco Plan Commission on Wednesday will discuss Baylor’s request to prohibit what the new ordinance calls “short-term rental III” uses in the College and University Overlay District.

That district spans a large part of South and East Waco, as well as downtown. It was created in 2014 to prevent incompatible development in neighborhoods around the university.

Baylor officials say the boom in online vacation stays facilitated by companies such as Airbnb raises safety concerns for off-campus student housing.

“There’s not an easy way to determine who’s living on the property,” university spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said. “There’s a concern about people not knowing who’s coming and going in the apartment next to them.”

She said federal laws such as the Clery Act and Title IX place responsibility on the university for ensuring student safety even in off-campus housing.

The Plan Commission will have its first discussion of the request during its work session at noon Wednesday at the Mae Jackson Development Center, 401 Franklin Ave. A vote on whether to recommend the ordinance change to the city council is planned for Sept. 26.

Planning director Clint Peters said he will recommend the changes, though he favors grandfathering existing multifamily short-term rentals and narrowing the scope of the area affected.

The southern end of downtown Waco, which is part of the overlay district, could be exempted because its identity is more tied to the central business district than Baylor.

Peters said that compared to single-family or duplex residences, student apartments are difficult to monitor for compliance with the city’s short-term rental ordinance.

“In single-family housing areas, the population is more consistent,” he said. “In an apartment complex, the students are already a transient population.”

He said there hasn’t been a problem with the handful of existing multifamily short-term rentals around campus, but he is willing to listen to Baylor’s concerns.

Karl “Rock” McNair, Baylor’s assistant vice president for real estate operations, served earlier this year on an advisory committee for developing the new short-term rental ordinance.

Based on the committee’s recommendation, the Plan Commission and council approved an ordinance with five categories of short-term rentals and different rules for each.

A short-term rental III special permit is needed for an owner wants to rent out a multifamily property without being onsite.

An example is the 10-unit complex near campus on Bagby Avenue, called 1700 South Second. Formerly a late-1960s-era student apartment, it was renovated about 2013 by Jack Herrin, grandson of the Baylor alumnus who built it.

“We remodeled it and put one unit up on Airbnb just to generate a little revenue,” Herrin said.

He discovered a big demand from Baylor alumni and visitors, as well as baseball and rowing teams that liked the convenience of being near athletic facilities, he said. Local tourism officials encouraged him to turn the complex into a full-time short-term rental, and he got it permitted under former city rules that predate the new short-term rental ordinance, he said.

“We provide a great service to friends and family, like my grandfather would have liked,” Herrin said. “We don’t want loud college kids partying. That’s not the clientele we cater to.”

Though Herrin’s property could be grandfathered if the amended ordinance passes, he still opposes it. He said the change in the rules creates an “inherent risk” to the flexibility property owners need to make a return on their investment.

“I’m kind of a libertarian and I feel you should be able to do whatever you want with your property as long as you’re causing no harm to anyone,” Herrin said.

He said the ordinance and future regulatory uncertainty about short-term rentals would likely keep him from buying other properties around Baylor.

Herrin said he intends to attend the Plan Commission meeting Wednesday and to make his voice heard at future Plan Commission and council meetings.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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