While residents in the Spanish Town Historic District want the city-parish to regulate the short-term rentals in their neighborhood, a proposed ordinance that surfaced recently is not what they had in mind.
"(It's) basically trying to take away the property rights of people who live here," said Mary Jane Marcantel, a board member and spokeswoman of the Historic Spanish Town Civic Association. "It needs to be modified."
Many residents have grown frustrated with the growing number of short-term rentals in the neighborhood, and the excessive noise and parking nightmares that have accompanied them. They also want to block more outside developers from coming in and renovating dilapidated properties just to turn them into mini-motels with no onsite management.
However, Marcantel and other longtime residents of the downtown neighborhood are annoyed they were excluded from discussions among their Metro Council representative, downtown officials and lobbyists taking up the interests of outside investors and the Airbnb industry that led up to the proposed ordinance circulating through the community.
Residents in one of the Baton Rouge's oldest neighborhoods have launched a crusade for regulations to prevent vacant homes being flipped into …
Their Metro Council representative, Tara Wicker, claims that's not true and stressed that the ordinance they've seen is just a draft and nothing is set in stone.
"After I met with the select group of people who reached out to me about this to come up with a proposal, my intention was to always have a community meeting to get their input before bringing anything to the Metro Council," Wicker said.
But it's starting to feel like the debate over short-term rentals, which are commonly rented through sites like Airbnb, could flare up like it did in New Orleans and other metropolitan cities across the nation. Some cities have either banned such rentals or adopted restrictive measures requiring property owners to live on-site.
The copy of the proposed ordinance obtained by The Advocate shows it would establish a $500 permitting fee for short-term rentals in the city's historic overlay districts and require that a permit be prominently displayed within the property if applicants meet all the mandated guidelines and on-site inspections by the city-parish.
Any person who advertises a property as a short-term rental without first obtaining a permit would face a fine of $100 per day for each day the property was illegally advertised, up to the maximum of $1,500, the proposal states. The proposal also would limit the number of occupants at short-term rentals to twice the number of permitted bedrooms, with a maximum of 12 occupants, and prohibits consecutive rentals by the same renter.
Spanish Town residents' ire with the ordinance proposal lies with a stipulation that caps the number of short-term rentals in operation at one time in historic neighborhoods at "no more than 3 percent."
Marie Constantin, a 20-year Spanish Town homeowner, is worried the stipulation opens the door for outside investors with pull at City Hall to swoop in, obtain permits and then buy up properties and flip them into short-term rentals until the 3 percent cap is reached.
Such a scenario would bar residents there from converting their properties into short-term rentals in the future if they choose, she said.
"If you're an investor with a whole house you want to turn into an Airbnb, we don't want you here," Constantin said. "We want owner-occupied short-term rentals."
Constantin and Debbie Daniel, another longtime homeowner in Spanish Town, said a recent "whole house" rental to 12 guests resulted in loud parties and parking nightmares for them over the course of a weekend.
Parking is so scarce in Spanish Town a city-parish ordinance limits residents to one parking pass each and two additional passes for visitors.
Marcantel said the president of the neighborhood association, who said he was recusing himself from the matter because he and his wife have two properties they rent through Airbnb, attended at least one of the meetings Wicker had with officials.
Collin Richie, president of the Historic Spanish Town Civic Association, said he did meet with city leaders and did express concerns before stepping aside and suggesting Marcantel step forward on the matter. He declined to say what his thoughts were.
Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, attended a meeting and echoed Wicker's sentiments that nothing about the draft is finial and that resident feedback is necessary. A spokesman for Airbnb did not respond to questions regarding the topic.
Wicker said it's clear residents want to "maintain and protect the integrity of the neighborhood."
"We know we don't want a block of properties that are Airbnbs there and the 3 percent cap felt like a logical way to make sure that didn't happen after looking at what other cities have done," she said. "There is no way we're going to please everyone. And whether we like it or not, Airbnbs are here to stay."
Constantin said the city should look at best practices from other cities for a solution.