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2 short-term rental bills on council docket tonight

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Springfield City Council tonight plans to take up two bills regarding short-term rental properties – currently an unregulated industry in Springfield. The decision would end more than a year of debate and months of developing the bill language.

Council members first heard a bill on Nov. 5 to legalize the fledgling short-term rental business, but it was tabled two weeks later when a substitute bill was introduced.

“From what I’ve heard, the substitute bill has a lot of support on council and I think it will pass tonight,” said Tracy Kimberlin, president of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I think the substitute bill makes improvements that were needed.”

Particularly, Kimberlin said he supports the substitute bill’s grace period for applications of existing and new rentals and its removal of a 95-day rental limit on certain properties.

Kimberlin said the hotel industry welcomes the regulations because they can address a potentially uneven playing field in the existing governance of hotel properties.

“There are some people who have a desire to stay in short-term rentals as opposed to a hotel room,” he said. “Rather than trying to fight it, we need to embrace it and regulate it for the safety and comfort of our visitors.”

Airbnb has 265 listings for short-term rentals in Springfield, and the local industry grossed $1.4 million from 15,800 guests, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Council plans to vote on the substitute bill first, and if passed the original bill would not be considered.

Springfield’s Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed the substitute bill at its Dec. 6 meeting and changed its vote from unanimous opposition of the original bill to a 5-3 vote in favor of the substitute.

In city code, short-term rentals are broken down into three category types.

The substitute bill modifies Type 1 rental properties to permit unlimited rentals in an accessory apartment in the primary structure or historic carriage-house when the owner is present. 

Type 2 rentals would be restricted to one per eight houses on each side of a block and would require consent from 55 percent of adjacent property owners. A 30-day grace period upon passage of the substitute bill, which applies to new and existing short-term rentals, will not be subject to the density requirement.

One area the substitute bill doesn’t cover is payment of the hotel tax by short-term rental owners due to the Hancock Amendment. Kimberlin said he would like to see that changed in the future, but it would have to be approved by voters.

“There’s no big rush on that,” he said. 

The short-term rental discussion on regulations dates back to Jan. 11, 2018, when P&Z first considered amendments for the rentals, according to city documents. 

Other items on tonight’s agenda include five rezoning requests and an ordinance to place bicycle docks on city right-of-way by Springfield Bike Share.

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