The New Orleans City Planning Commission’s denial of a long-shot request to allow more intense bed-and-breakfast operations in historic areas of the city suggests there’s still stiff opposition among commissioners to permitting short-term rentals of entire homes in residential neighborhoods.
The commission voted unanimously against the bed-and-breakfast request Tuesday, following a brief discussion that directly alluded to the commission’s ongoing study of how to regulate the thousands of short-term rentals that have cropped up in the city using sites like Airbnb.
That could suggest the commission will continue to recommend the City Council keep whole-home rentals illegal in residential areas, except in limited circumstances.
“It’s like the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ We keep waking up to the same issue,” Commissioner Nolan Marshall said. “I don’t know how many times we have to deny the same issue.”
The denial buoyed opponents of short-term rentals, who have focused specifically on keeping rentals of entire homes illegal in the city because of what the opponents see as their negative consequences for neighborhoods.
While all types of short-term rentals are now illegal in New Orleans, the rules are rarely enforced.
“I think the expectations of the people that live in the neighborhoods are paramount,” Commissioner Robert Steeg said.
The request up for consideration Tuesday was filed by Henry Fairbanks and was not directly related to the short-term rental debate. If successful, it would have allowed property owners to apply for permits to run residential properties as full bed-and-breakfasts, rather than the limited ones now allowed by the zoning law.
The city’s zoning ordinance defines two types of bed-and-breakfasts. “Accessory bed-and-breakfasts” must be owner-occupied, are limited to four guest rooms, cannot be rented for social events and can occupy no more than a quarter of their buildings.
“Principal bed-and-breakfasts” do not have to be owner-occupied, can have up to nine guest rooms and can rent out space for parties.
Accessory bed-and-breakfasts are allowed as a conditional use in neighborhoods zoned as historic urban two-family districts, while principal ones are not.
Fairbanks’ request would have made both types of operations legal in those areas with a conditional-use permit from the city.
The planning staff said Fairbanks, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, had a specific but unnamed property in mind that he wanted to convert to a principal bed-and-breakfast.
The commission’s staff recommended against allowing principal bed-and-breakfasts in historic districts, arguing that “due to their intensive nature” they are not compatible with the districts’ character.
The two categories of bed-and-breakfasts somewhat mirror two of the categories being considered for short-term rentals.
A plan put forward by the zoning staff and supported by Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed four types of rentals. The two that would be allowed to operate full time in residential areas were “accessory uses,” which would allow the rental of rooms in a home but required the primary occupant to be present, and a more intense use that would allow whole homes to be rented out, with restrictions on how many would be allowed per block.
The City Planning Commission voted against allowing short-term rentals of entire homes when the commission voted to pass the staff’s report on to the City Council.
However, the council, which has the final say in the matter, left the door open to including such rentals in the final version of the rules when it asked the Planning Commission to hold more public hearings and draft an ordinance regulating all short-term rentals on the basis of the staff’s original proposals.