Wimberley STR owners question city’s data, fees

Tempers flared earlier this month as local Wimberley business owners questioned the validity of several proposed short-term rental (STR) ordinance changes.

One of the more controversial proposed changes, among minimum parking requirements, would call for an annual renewal of the Conditional Use Permits (CUP) granted to STR operators in Wimberley city limits. This administrative renewal process would cost $50 per guest with a max renewal fee of $500 per year.

Those proposed changes drew heated debate at a recent joint workshop involving the Wimberley Planning and Zoning Commission and the STR Advisory Committee. Many questioned the validity of more stringent regulations for STRs.

STR Committee Chair Albert Valera said the purpose of the ordinance change is to bring into compliance those who are operating STRs without a CUP. Around 200 STRs are reported to be out of compliance, according to city estimates from two independent software companies. 

“The goal is to put these STRs on a level playing field by bringing non-compliant properties into compliance,” Valera said. “…the point is, is there ever a time it is acceptable for the city to have a number of people not in compliance. And if there is, how many can we tolerate?”

Valera said the city is experiencing a 30 percent STR growth rate per year, or around 40 to 50 new operations. Valera estimates the number of STRs in the city will double in around three years.

The recent approval of a $19,000 STR software by the city council will aid the city in its efforts to compile data on STRs both in and out of compliance.

“The software is a solution, so I don’t have to hire a second code enforcement officer,” said City Administrator Shawn Cox. “Money isn’t free-flowing. We’re trying to solve an issue we don’t know the magnitude of.”

Cox said the city is not ignoring its current ordinance, but does not have the personnel to keep STRs in compliance.

Some residents, however, question the committee’s motives. Those residents feel the STR situation in Wimberley is not in a dire state of repair.

“I just don’t understand what made this such a crisis of $19,000 and 50-hours of meetings,” said Josie Bisett, a Wimberley STR owner. “Where did this data come from and if it wasn’t until we went out to contact these companies that we got this data from, what kickstarted this whole STR review process?”

Valera said he doesn’t believe there is a crisis and that the committee’s recommendation is to help prepare for the future growth of STRs in the city.

Additionally, members of the committee said the estimated annual renewal fees would pay for the software. An up to $2,000 fine would be associated with those who fail to come into compliance.

P&Z Commissioners Peter Lingamfelter and Rebecca Minnick questioned the pace of the changes, citing that an ordinance revision was given to them minutes before a Feb. 14 meeting.

“For us to digest this amount of information, it just requires more time,” Lingamfelter said.

Members of the audience wanted the committee to go back to the drawing board. An economic impact statement has not been conducted by the city to estimate how much the renewal fees would impact small businesses and hurt the lodging business in the city.

Bisett said the ordinance changes do not affect those STR operators in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Bisette felt those small business owners have an advantage to STRs that operate in the city limits.

Wimberley resident Ned Murphy pressed the committee on multitude of issues, including the economic impact study. Murphy questioned what led to a “draconian compliance scheme with a $2,000” risk. He added the fear of fines and trying to stay in compliance could keep people from trying to get into the lodging industry. 

“We’re adding more hoops to jump through and we don’t even know if this is going to cost the economy,” Murphy said. “A lot of economic activity won’t happen because so much of our tourism relies on our lodging.”

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