Thursday, the Lafayette Board of Zoning decided whether to uphold an appeal against a short-term rental property operating in a single-family residential neighborhood. Citizens on both sides of this feud surrounding one Airbnb on Poinsetta Drive believed the outcome could set precedent for every other short-term rental in the city.
No part in the Lafayette Development Code at the moment regulates short-term rentals. That’s why the director of development and planning allowed the Airbnb property to operate, sending the owner a letter to disregard a complaint last year. When neighbors heard about the director’s unilateral decision, they appealed it with 40 signatures from 27 surrounding homes.
“Think of the pandora’s box that has just been opened up with this thinking,” said appellant Gordon Schoeffler who lives next to Airbnb in question. “Any jurisdiction where this is quote successful they are heavily regulated. That ain’t what we have here in Lafayette. It’s the Wild West.”
Director Mary Sliman justified her decision with a Lafayette Development Code clause that allows the administrator to “authorize a use” when the code is silent on a use.
To do so the use must follow one of four criteria:
- Be functionally the same as a listed use.
- Have a similar visual, traffic, and environmental impacts as a listed use.
- Other comparably sized jurisdictions have successfully integrated the use in one or more equivalent zoning districts.
- The use is within the same industry classification as another permitted use.
Sliman’s Attorney, Daniel Gauthier, argued, “If this board agrees with any one of those, then you have to deny the appeal.”
Dozens of public comments either agreed or disagreed with that judgment, but the majority of the board believed their job was clear.
Zoning board member Melissa Llewellyn stated, “We are not here to determine whether or not we think Airbnb’s are right or wrong. We’re here to determine if she did her job. That’s all we’re here for.”
The final decision was 3-2 to deny the appeal. The two votes against cited concern that short-term rentals were not given conditional use to operate. Businesses like bed and breakfasts operate similarly but require conditional use permits. Although Airbnb and other short-term rentals are subject to hotel/motel taxes, they have no other regulations.