NO.airbnb1.112616.jpeg

Lady Walker, left, sits on her stoop while chatting with friends Leah Walborne, center, and Richard McCarthy Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, at her home in the Bywater. The City Council is set to take a final vote on legalizing and regulating Airbnb on Dec. 1.

Advocate photo by SCOTT THRELKELD

The New Orleans City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to deny four zoning changes that would let the property owners rent out their buildings full time on Airbnb and similar platforms.

The owners wanted to take advantage of a provision in New Orleans’ short-term rental law that allows houses and apartments to be rented to tourists every day of the year if they have the right zoning.

The commission’s recommendations go now to the City Council, which makes the final decisions.

The commission’s votes came after overwhelming opposition from neighbors and preservation groups who said the city’s neighborhoods are being overrun with miniature hotels.

Erin Holmes of the Preservation Resource Center noted the number of zoning requests on the agenda related to short-term rentals, saying they are part of a “creep into residential zones.”

“The frequency of this request points to the necessity of a re-evaluation of our entire short-term rental ordinance,” she said.

The City Council passed a law legalizing and regulating short-term rentals in private homes about a year ago. Under the law, which took effect in April, entire houses and apartments that are zoned residential cannot be rented more than 90 days per year.

But units with a commercial short-term rental license can operate year-round. Those licenses are not available in areas zoned for residential use, but they are in mixed-use districts, which are sprinkled throughout the city.

Since the middle of last year, the city has gotten at least 11 rezoning applications from property owners that would have let them operate an Airbnb full time.

Three of those requests have gone before the City Council for a final vote; all have been approved. The council is set to vote on another one, in the 900 block of Louisiana Avenue, on Thursday. The City Planning Commission voted against that request in November.

Among the properties whose requests were denied on Tuesday was the former Zara’s grocery store at 2042 Prytania St. It’s now zoned as a neighborhood business. The owners want its zoning changed to mixed-use, which would let them obtain a year-round short-term rental license.

The owners, who have been operating the upstairs apartments as short-term rentals under part-time licenses, want to lease the first floor to a grocery tenant. Their request for rezoning to mixed-use would not only allow them to rent the apartments to tourists every day; it would also allow the grocery store to sell packaged liquor.

Nicole Webre, a consultant representing the owners, said two grocery tenants are interested in the first-floor space but neither will sign a lease if they can’t sell liquor.

Webre told The Lens her clients are not interested in using the rezoning to get a commercial short-term rental license. She said they hope to reach a good-neighbor agreement that would limit short-term rentals at the site.

When the Zara’s building proposal went before the City Council last fall, council members responded with a request for a measure to restrict commercial short-term rental licenses in mixed-use areas. The City Planning Commission voted against the idea this month.

The other properties up for rezoning at Tuesday’s meeting were at 919 Jackson Ave., 1700 Jackson Ave. and 413 N. Tonti St.

Both Jackson Avenue properties are owned by Christian Galvin. Speaking on his behalf, lawyer Robert Ellis, who also represents the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, a short-term rental advocacy group, said Galvin is not an out-of-town investor. In fact, he said, Galvin lives at one of the properties he wants rezoned.

“Mr. Galvin’s not a company. He’s a person,” he said. “It’s the highest and best use of his property. It’s always going to be a short-term rental. It’s never going to be long-term.”

Such “spot zoning” requests, said Commissioner Walter Isaacson, go against the spirit of the short-term rental law.

“I hope we’re sending the signal to people not to go and buy a property, then spot-zone,” Isaacson said. “I hope the message goes out that we’re tending to deny these unless there’s some extreme circumstance.”