FLORENCE — Short term rental owners had their say Thursday night with city officials about a proposed solution to issues raised recently about zoning violations.

Many in the crowd of about 80 were Airbnb owners who were among the 27 who received cease and desist letters from the city last month.

The letter from the city’s Building Department said a short-term rental is not allowed to operate in R1 and R2 zones, which are for single-family dwellings.

Jan Scofield, who along with her husband has owned two rental properties with Airbnb since 2016, said she was never told she was out of compliance.

“We absolutely want to abide by all ordinances and we’re asking for time to sort this all out and come to a workable solution as opposed to us having to balk on our obligation to people who’ve rented our homes (through the fall),” she said.

Scofield used a PowerPoint presentation to show the economic and aesthetic values of short-term rentals to the owners and the city.

Kelly Pratt, a neighbor who lives across the street from Scofield's Collier Street Airbnb rental, said she's enjoyed meeting the guests who've rented.

"I stay in Airbnbs when I travel, and I wish Florence had more of this housing because it's the way (of travelers) in the more progressive cities," Pratt said.

Lee Haddock, who owns an Airbnb rental, said she contacted the city's Building Department about such issues as zoning and got no answers, not even after "talking to about 14 people."

Haddock said the bottom line is there's no definition of a short-term rental in the existing ordinance, so she doesn't see how owners are in violation of the zoning ordinance. 

Scofield presented to city officials a suggestion that several Airbnb owners came up with during a recent meeting: Airbnb owners would be reqquired to purchase a business license and a special permit for operation, both renewable annually.

She said legal notice should be given in the community, and an oversight board of property owners would be established to review any issues or complaints that arise. Failure to follow the rules would result in revocation of the permit.

"The city has followed the rules and did what they needed to do, and now we're simply asking to work together to compromise in a fair way so we can keep moving forward in a progressive manner," Scofield said.

Not all in the audience was in favor of allowing short-term rentals in residential areas.

Blaine Childers said he'd had the opposite experience from what was described by others in the meeting.

City Council President Dick Jordan said the council has turned the issue over to the planning commission. An early July compliance date will be extended until "some solution has been worked out."

Mayor Steve Holt said city officials are looking for examples of successful ordinances that protect residential areas, support local business, and grow tourism.

"While research is underway to address short-term rental comprehensively, the current ordinances must be applied and enforced fairly," he said. "We're open to working with all parties to achieve the best policies to meet the needs of our city."

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