Vacation rental appeal tabled for a month

An East Harriet resident’s appeal of the city’s decision to prohibit short-term rental at her home left the zoning board in deadlock.

None of the three motions made after nearly two hours of discussion Dec. 4 garnered enough support to get the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to decide whether to allow East Harriet resident Carolyn Moore to rent her home short-term to vacationers.

The issue was first presented to the board in October, when Moore appealed a zoning administrator’s decision to prohibit the use of her 43rd & Bryant Avenue home as a "vacation rental," a short-term use for families and small groups staying in the area for a few days, weeks or longer. The appeal was tabled until the meeting this month, so the city could research the topic further. But unable to reach a decision after a sometimes-heated debate, the board opted to take up the issue again in a month.

 "I don’t think we’re going to get any further here tonight," said board Vice Chairman Matt Perry. "We’ve exhausted all manner of possibilities tonight."

The city can delay action on zoning appeals 120 days — two 60-day cycles. The city had to extend Moore’s appeal to the second cycle. If that expires, her appeal could be automatically granted without a board vote.

The main sticking point in Moore’s appeal is that the city’s zoning and housing codes do not clearly define her specific use.

Zoning Administrator Steve Poor argued that it most closely resembled a bed-and-breakfast or hotel, a use that is not allowed in Moore’s zoning district. The city also requires the owner of a bed-and-breakfast to live in the home. Moore started vacation renting when she moved out to live with her ailing father.

Moore and her attorney, Bill Griffith, argued that her operation more closely resembled a single-family home being rented. The city does not list a minimum number of days tenants are required to stay in a rental property.    

Numerous supportive renters who have stayed at Moore’s home and neighbors both for and against her practice wrote letters to the city about the issue.

Several neighbors signed a letter that said: "We are concerned that to allow Ms. Moore to run such a for-profit enterprise from what is zoned as single family residence, might encourage others, also without the sanction of the zoning administrator, to commercialize our quiet neighborhood."

Several other neighbors wrote: "We do not see (Moore’s) use of her home in the same category as a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast establishment. Since Carolyn started renting her home out as a vacation home, there has been no negative effect on our neighborhood."

A couple of Moore’s supporters — a neighbor and another person who uses her home as a vacation rental — spoke at the meeting. No one against her appeal attended.

But regardless of what anyone thinks about the merits of Moore’s operation, her economic situation or any other factors, the board’s decision must be based purely on what the city’s codes allow, said board Chairman Paul Gates.

"This group has a very narrow charter here before us to simply look and try to decide whether the administrator, given the existing code, made the right call," Gates said.

The relatively new concept of vacation rental — something that was first regulated in Stearns County last summer — left the board staring at a hole in Minneapolis’ code.  
Poor said the city is taking a deeper look at vacation rentals and he expects the issue to go to the City Council for discussion. In the meantime, the zoning board will mull over Moore’s situation and make a decision next month.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected].