Role of planning in built subdivisions


Visitor Question: I am finding it to be very confusing why the city planning department has anything to do with our neighborhood organization. They seem to think that planning is the answer to everything, but there are no more unbuilt lots in our two subdivisions. I don't see what there is to plan about.

My neighbors and I think it is especially objectionable that they are sticking their nose into our business by talking about limiting our ability to list our properties on AirBnB.

We are in a very desirable area by a lake, and if we have a spare room, why shouldn't we be able to take advantage of people wanting to use our guest house or even a spare bedroom as a quiet place to relax during the summer? So far at least we have a wonderful summer climate, and people really like to stay here.

How can we get these city employees off of our backs? We have a strong organization that really tries to uphold good maintenance standards, so I don't understand why they are so concerned about it when property owners just want to make a little extra income to offset our very high taxes that pay their salaries.

Editors Reply: The fact that you do not have any vacant lots in your subdivisions does not exempt you from municipal zoning law. Some of the people called planners commonly administer whatever land use regulations are in place, and this is what you are encountering.

Zoning laws give lists of permitted land uses in a certain zoning district category, and apparently short-term rentals are not allowed in your zoning district. (The term "district" might be confusing here; just think of it as a category or designation instead of as one geographically contiguous area.)

It seems to us that what you and your neighbors should do is organize yourselves to approach your city council about changing the list of permitted uses in your zoning district. If you have a subdivision organization, or a pair of them, you have this base covered already. If not, we are not suggesting that you must incorporate, have officers, and all of that stuff--simply that you have a little meeting to figure out your approach and who will do what.

Try to figure out in advance if any of your neighbors will be vocal in their opposition to changing the zoning regulations that pertain to your district. It would not be unusual to find at least one or two households who think that opening up your subdivisions to something other than strict single-family uses would be detrimental to their property values, or at least to their peace and quiet. We are not saying you need 100% agreement, but it is good to know in advance if you will have internal opposition.

Begin to think about what might seem to your city councilpersons to be the advantages of allowing short-term rentals. They bring economic activity from tourism to your area, and they may allow long-term residents with limited incomes to remain in their homes, which is good for stability. The extra income might mean extra maintenance and upgrading of the properties.

During this process, we suggest that you not let your relationship with the planning staff members to become hostile. Usually they have ongoing relationships with the city's decision-makers, and ideally you can convince them of the merits of your case. To that end, staff members are just people too, and they appreciate being respected. Don't start out by polarizing the staff.

We are not at all suggesting that you should give in if you can't convince the planners to support expanding the list of permitted uses. We are just advising civility.

If you have not done so already, you might want to check out our page on short-term rental zoning issues.

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