The Monticello City Council had to do some explaining during the May 10 council meeting, when they opened the meeting for public comment and were informed that the city is not enforcing known zoning ordinance violations.
Jason Davis and his wife Candace, owners of the Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn, raised the issue of zoning violations caused by Short Term Vacation Rentals in R-1 zones.
“This issue was just swept under the rug because no one wants to make a decision,” said Davis.
Davis read the City Zoning Ordinance which defines the R-1 residential zone as: “…a place where single-family detached dwelling can be constructed, having attractively landscaped yards and a favorable environment for family life. Uses such as multiple-family dwellings, apartment houses and commercial and industrial uses are not permitted in this zone.”
Davis claims that some of the vacation rentals are in violation of this ordinance, including rentals catering to student groups or groups of visitors.
Vacation rentals are not on the list of allowed R-1 zone uses. The ordinance states: “Uses of land which are not expressly permitted within a zone are expressly prohibited therein.”
According to the ordinance, the penalty for a violation includes a class C misdemeanor and fine. It is a separate offense for each and every day a violation occurs.
During the following discussion, it was suggested that these vacation rentals operate in the city without city-issued business licenses, yet are collecting sales and Transient Room Taxes (TRT).
Davis expressed concern that these operations are listed on internet vacation rental sites, including Trip Advisor, Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) and Air BNB, and are in direct competition with other properly-licensed businesses.
Davis presented the City Council with city zoning maps where he had marked the location of seven such operations actively operating in R-1 zones, including a Bed and Breakfast.
“These business are flooding the market, and we are seeing a decrease in our business,” said Candace Davis. “Are these businesses licensed, do they have insurance, are they inspected? What about occupancy? Can the sewer system handle the increases?” she asked.
In response to the question of why no action had been taken, Mayor Young said, “We were going to wait a year on this issue and see the impact of these operations.”
In 2015, the Council became aware of the issue, which is a growing challenge in communities throughout the state and nation.
While Monticello has about 150 “pillows” available for short-term rentals, there are approximately 1,600 similar availabilities in Moab alone.
City Manager Ty Bailey said the Utah League of Cities and Towns is working on a recommendation for use by communities throughout the state.
Bailey added that the issue has been put on the agenda of the next Planning Commission. The commission meets on the first Tuesday of every month.
Bailey explains that the focus of concern last summer was primarily on one property and that property was sold and is no longer a short-term rental property.
“We decided to look at it and see what happens throughout the state,” said Bailey. “Changing an ordinance based upon one property seems premature. There is a lot to it.”
The Moab City Council recently voted to ban new Bed and Breakfast establishments in R-2 zones but has not yet addressed short-term rental properties. Existing businesses are not impacted by the changes in Moab.
In other news, Race Young, wearing his Boy Scout uniform, appeared before the Council to give an update on his Eagle Scout Project.
“I want to thank you for renaming the ball park the Reed Young Ball Park after my dad,” he said. Reed Young, a coach and avid supporter of the baseball programs in Monticello, passed away in October, 2015.
Race then went on to outline the status of the new scoreboard being constructed in the park and to provide artwork for the finished project.
Race said that nearly all the expenses for the construction were covered, except $229. He said he would raise the remaining amount.
Councilman Nathan Chamberlain immediately contributed $20, saying, “Well, now it is $219, Race.”
A tentative operating budget for Monticello was presented by City Manager Ty Bailey and reviewed by the Council.
“The budget is slightly higher than last year, but there is not a significant increase to any one item,” said Bailey.
The budget of about $2 million will increase by approximately $66,295 or about 3.3 percent over last year.
“The department heads were more involved in the creation of this budget,” said Bailey. The tentative budget was approved pending final changes later in the year.
Changes in the animal control ordinances and new fees were discussed with City Manager Bailey. He emphasized that the purpose of licensing is to promote the safety of the public by insuring animals are properly vaccinated.
The proposed fees are $10 for licensing (which insures vaccination and identification) and an initial $35 impound fee, with a $10 per day impound boarding fee.
Implanting micro chips in the animals was also discussed. San Juan County has provided the chips in the past and the City has not charged for the service.
“I think we need to look into providing this service again,” said Mayor Young.
Ironically, after the previous discussion about zoning violations, City Manager Bailey presented proposed changes to the Zoning Violations Ordinance.
Under the proposal, enforcement be provided by city police. They would document the violations and ensure the violations are not open to interpretation by the courts.
The proposed process includes validation of the violation, followed by a letter from the city delivered in person by the police.
The letter would outline the code violation with a $30 penalty and an expected timeframe to comply. If compliance doesn’t occur, the violator could be cited, the City could enforce compliance, and the resident could be billed accordingly.
If the process is challenged, the defense would be made directly to the City Council.
As this would constitute a change in a City Ordinance, a public hearing will be held on this issue before it is approved.
The City is accepting proposals for use of the abandoned Golf Pro Shop. Bailey said the city is welcome to any and all good ideas for the building and adjacent property.