Potential state bill causes hold on short-term rental regulations

After what appeared to be steady progress to further regulate Wimberley’s lodging industry, an abrupt recommendation to delay further action on the ordinance change leaves officials in limbo.

At the March 14 Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission meeting, commissioners took no action to recommend an ordinance change that has been discussed by the STR Committee since its conception in July 2018.

The decision for no action came after City Administrator Shawn Cox and the city’s attorney pulled the reins on the proposed ordinance change, citing proposed legislation at the capitol could define the future of STRs.

This includes allowing General Law Type A cities such as Wimberley to further regulate STRs.

“Unless this law passes, I cannot issue a permit for an STR,” Cox said. “The cleanest way to be able to do this is for the city to require a permit … and in your permit you have to meet these conditions. The law doesn’t allow me to do that.”

Some members of P&Z voiced concern about the legality of the ordinance. Across the state, municipalities are attempting to regulate STRs in large part because of a legal battle that is stirring at the capitol. 

Cox said if the proposed STR ordinance does not pass, he could, at a minimum, seek to “clean up” already in-place rules.

But Cox said drastic changes in state law would require the city to change its approach entirely, which could mean drafting a completely new ordinance.

The decision to not recommend comes at odds with the STR Committee’s findings regarding the ordinance. At a recent joint workshop with P&Z and the committee, STR committee chair Albert Valera said despite the legal battle, he wanted the city to be proactive in its approach to the new recommended ordinance.

The controversial ordinance change would require STR owners to reapply for their Conditional Use Permit (CUP) once a year, with a $50 fee per possible occupant with a maximum fee of $500. Some local STR owners have been critical of the proposed changes, calling the committee’s recommendation as a solvent for a crisis that doesn’t exist.

However, members of the committee, including Valera, have continuously said the purpose of the change is to bring non-compliant STR operators into compliance.

In addition, STR owners have questioned the legitimacy of the city’s estimates that around 200 STRs are out of compliance in the city, a number which was compiled by two individual companies the city contracted with.

On Feb. 21, Wimberley city leaders approved to enter into a contract with Host Compliance for STR software that has a price tag of $19,000. The approval, while controversial, is in direct response to the city’s finding that around 200 to 300 STR are operating in the city out of compliance.

The fees associated with the renewals is predicted to pay for the software.

The newly proposed bills could aid the city in its STR efforts, outlining procedures and regulations that fall in line with the recommendations of the STR Committee. Some of the bills include language that allows STR software that aids the city.

“The proposed bills set a capacity on STRs so we’d have to see how that affects us …,” Cox said. “If any of the three passes it would be exactly what we want to do. It sets a fee not to exceed $450 and you have to say this money is being used for the compliance of the permit, so that’s the software component.”

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