Wimberley council votes to amend short-term rental facility ordinance

Wimberley city leaders last week approved changes to an ordinance regulating short-term rental (STR) facilities in city limits, which could close a months-long controversy over the issue.

By a 4-1 vote on first reading, the Wimberley City Council approved amendments to the ordinance, which include requiring STR property owners to apply for a permit every two years. Place 3 councilmember Sally Gibson Trapp cast the lone dissenting vote. The item will return for a second reading at the Jan. 19 meeting.

City Administrator Don Ferguson said city leaders went through a “significant” public meeting process over a 60-day period. The meetings involved the Planning and Zoning Commission, different members of the STR industry and community members.

Ferguson said the group arrived at the recommendations, which the city council sought to obtain as part of a 90-day moratorium on approving Conditional Use Permits for STRs.

One of the provisions was requiring property owners who operate STRs to apply for a permit every two years, rather than apply for a CUP.

Ferguson said there was a concern over transferability of CUPs, which is a zoning change that stays with the property and cannot be renewed.

“The feeling was a permit was the right way to do that,” Ferguson said.

Other provisions included requiring STR owners to provide identification information to renters. P&Z requested a “20-percent” rule for permit applications, similar to a rule city council has with CUPs.

According to the recommendation, a permit request with 20 percent of nearby property owners in opposition must receive approval by a super-majority vote from the P&Z and the city council.

In addition, STR owners attempting to renew their permits who have two unresolved complaints stemming from city ordinance or state law violations must go before the city council for approval.   

Trapp, however, was concerned about the unresolved complaints, and advocated for increasing the number of violations from two to three. She also held concerns over the subjectiveness of the complaints that may come before council.

Mayor Mac McCullough said the subjectiveness depends on the “integrity of the complainer.” McCullough said council would have to place some “common sense with any complaints.”

Trapp said she believed the city isn’t through crafting the ordinance as she believed there was a lot of unresolved “gray area.”

“We’re making a law, and yet we’re inviting gray,” Trapp said. “We’re looking at issues currently with the small number of complaints we have. It needs to be black and white.”

Residents at the meeting expressed concern over the changes and how they could affect STRs in the future.

One resident who spoke during public comment opposed the changes as it places “more restrictions on bed and breakfast (facilities) than homeowners have.”

The resident also alleged the city was “double-dipping” by requiring some property owners to apply for a CUP and a permit. They added that the restrictions are driving business out of Wimberley.

“You’re punishing us and my clients and you’re not going after the real culprits out there,” one resident said.

Some residents felt the city wasn’t addressing the issue of illegal STRs operating within city limits and the extra-territorial jurisdiction. Some residents claim there are approximately 120 STRs and B&Bs operating illegally in the Wimberley area. 

McCullough said he received an email about that information and found that number “staggering” and was “in shock” by the figure.

“That number grows year over year. There are more and more people who get into the business … they basically are in the shadows,” one resident said.

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