Short-term rentals

This house at 617 Columbus Ave. is among 55 properties already permitted as a short-term rental. The city council signed off on a new ordinance Tuesday that governs short-term rental permitting.

The Waco City Council raised the bar for short-term rentals Tuesday, voting 6-0 on ordinances that place new restrictions on homes rented without the owner on-site.

Bowing to public pressure, the council will require special permits for all short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, a departure from the Waco Plan Commission’s recommendation earlier this month.

In the version recommended by the plan commission and a 16-member citizen task force, owners who wanted to rent a room while they remained on-site didn’t need to go through a public hearing before the council to get a special permit. They could have gotten the zoning permit by right as long as they followed the city’s rules.

But after an outcry from residents in the Castle Heights and Karem Park neighborhoods, the council agreed that even those short-term rentals should have to get special permits. The zoning ordinance and companion licensing ordinance passed on the first of two required votes.

About 20 residents of those neighborhoods showed up to protest the Plan Commission’s ordinance Tuesday, arguing that allowing any short-term rental deprives the neighborhood of a voice in keeping out what they called commercial enterprises.

“They propose to fundamentally alter the zoning laws in the city and potentially turn every home into a hotel,” said Lewis McReynolds, an attorney who lives on Austin Avenue. “This is going to upend and disrupt many neighborhoods.”

The zoning ordinance created five categories of short-term rentals, including “short-term rental I,” in which the owner is on-site and rents to one party at a time.

The ordinance puts new restrictions on homes rented without the owner present. Those “short-term rental II” homes could not be permitted within 500 feet of another similar operation.

Other categories include “bed and breakfast homestays,” in which owners are on-site and can rent to multiple parties, as well as bed and breakfast inns and the multifamily “short-term rental III,” both of which are not allowed in single-family residential areas.

The new ordinance does not allow a short-term rental in a single-family residential neighborhood in which an absentee owner rents to multiple parties.

The new measures are intended to protect neighborhood character amid Waco’s online lodging boom. The city already has 55 approved short-term rentals in operation, and the new ordinance is a response to council members’ call for more orderly rules for approving them.

“One of the main things we’re trying to achieve is to get a more consistent approach to this so the public can understand it, and so we can reduce the workload this is placing on staff, the plan commission and council so we can deal with more important issues,” Mayor Kyle Deaver said in a work session Tuesday.

But by requiring a special permit, the council rolls back the efforts in the original ordinance draft to streamline the permitting processes in cases in which a homeowner merely wants to rent a room.

Deaver and other council members also told Austin Avenue neighbors on Tuesday that they would consider an “overlay district” to protect their historic neighborhood from inappropriate development. That could include more restrictions on short-term rentals of all kinds.

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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