Fayetteville short-term rental ordinance extended despite opposition

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK City of Fayetteville city hall Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in downtown Fayetteville.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK City of Fayetteville city hall Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in downtown Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The City Council extended the sunset provision allowing short-term rentals in Fayetteville for another year, but not without opposition.

New council member Bob Stafford offered an amendment to allow the extension until June 30 instead of Dec. 31, 2024. The amendment failed in a 5-3 vote after debate. Council members Stafford, D'Andre Jones and Sarah Moore voted for the amendment. The other five members voted against. The three who supported the June 30 deadline voted against renewing the ordinance for a full year, with the other five voting for it.

Stafford won a Nov. 14 special election to replace Sonia Harvey, who resigned in June. During his campaign in south Fayetteville's Ward 1 he found widespread complaints about short-term rental of houses in residential neighborhoods and no support for them, he said.

"The whole reason I'm here is because Sonia Harvey can't find affordable housing in our district," Stafford said, adding the commercial rentals use up much of the available housing and drive up prices for the units remaining.

A short-term rental is described in the real-estate industry as a residential unit available for rental stays of less than one month.

"I just want us to have a sense of urgency about this," Stafford said. He told the council he had hoped to avoid bringing up the issue in his first meeting, but his constituents feel very strongly about the issue. The debate on the extension came up about two hours after Stafford was sworn in at the beginning of the meeting.

Allowing short-term rental of single-family homes is a complicated and controversial topic, city attorney Kit Williams said during debate on the ordinance. The city adopted a year-by-year ordinance so the ordinance automatically comes up for renewal and possible revision, he said. Without renewal, the 503 units inside the city now would no longer be legal, he said.

Council member Teresa Turk assured Stafford other council members hear complaints from their constituents.

"We're hearing it too," Turk said. "We haven't heard it knocking on as many doors as you have in your campaign, but we're getting emails."

Yet the council is making progress in refining the ordinance. Council members Sarah Bunch and Holly Hertzberg agreed, saying work to craft a balanced ordinance is ongoing, particularly on the council's Ordinance Review Committee.

Williams told Stafford the council has the power to repeal the existing ordinance with the sunset provision and replace it with another, improved one whenever it drafts one.

Delani Bartlett of the citizens' group Fayetteville Strong said the short-term rental unit across the street from her house is a "nightmare half the time" depending on who is renting it. Half the time the renters are no problem, but the rest of the time they are loud and spread trash, Bartlett said.

Bunch said during debate that even if short-term rentals were banned, that is no guarantee housing prices would drop. Houses could still be rented one month at a time, she said.

Council member Mike Wiederkehr said larger cities with more legal staff and money for attorneys found themselves in lawsuits after repealing or restricting previously legal activities. Williams said this is why the city took the approach of approving short-term rentals under an ordinance with year-long sunset provisions. He could not guarantee this approach would shield the city from all possible legal challenges but it offered the best defense, he said.

Stafford said another year-long extension to the ordinance would allow short-term rentals for more than three years. Residents grow frustrated with the lack of progress, he said. Moore told the council she knew of residents losing their leases on houses because their landlords want to turn the dwellings into short-term rental units.

In other business, the council approved the city's budget for the next year as proposed by Mayor Lioneld Jordan's administration after four unsuccessful attempts to amend it. Those proposals included an effort to add a long-range planner, a code compliance officer, a deputy communications director and a grant administrator. None of those proposals were in the mayor's proposed budget.

"Yes we need a long-range planner. I believe that," Jordan said before the budget vote. But other priorities such as the need to keep city employees' pay competitive take precedence, he said. The budget as proposed passed unanimously.

The proposed budget is $241.6 million, up from this year's $216.7 million.

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