Del Mar extends moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals

Del Mar has placed a 45-day moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals.
Del Mar has placed a 45-day moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals.
( / Union-Tribune file photo)

With city staff needing more time to develop new regulations, the Del Mar City Council on May 16 voted unanimously to extend a moratorium on short-term vacation rentals. Under the temporary ban, current short-term rentals can stay in operation, but no new rentals can open.

“I’d just like to emphasize that this is a moratorium on new rentals, not a moratorium on existing rentals,” Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott said. “It was strictly to stop the increase to give us some time to really craft something that will work well for the community.”

The city’s zoning code does not define or list short-term rentals as an allowed use, yet another section of the code allows residents to rent rooms in their homes for undefined periods of time. Although the existing code is unclear, a number of residences in Del Mar have been used as short-term rentals, with the practice likely predating the city’s incorporation.

Because the city’s zoning code lacks clarity and some community members have called for change, the council originally put the 45-day ban in place in April.

Since the April council meeting, staff identified 133 short-term rentals in the city, after researching listings advertised on websites and talking with local property managers. The rentals are scattered throughout the city, with the highest concentration in the Beach Colony area.

According to the city, short-term rentals in Del Mar have an average of seven people per stay for an average of eight nights. Units rent for an average of about $655 a night during peak season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the off season, the average rate is nearly $500 a night. Visitors stay roughly seven days during peak season and three days during off season.

Based on a survey of short-term rental operators in Del Mar, the city found 83 percent have a local property manager. Only 2 percent, however, have contact information for the manager posted in the window on the premises. According to the survey, 32 percent of managers conduct an in-person check-in process, while only 8 percent conduct an in-person check-out process.

The survey also found that 79 percent of managers provide rules and regulations as standard practices. Additionally, 51 percent of rentals provide two off-street parking spaces, while 45 percent provide one off-street parking space.

Del Mar resident and property manager Kimberly Jackson said the city should “embrace” vacation rentals because they offer more options for tourists, which support local businesses.

“Businesses are flourishing because of our visitors,” she said. “If we take these visitors away, all of this money is going to go somewhere else.”

Jackson added that short-term rentals help Del Mar keep its small town charm.

“If we don’t allow these things to keep continuing, you’ll have hotels knocking on your door saying let’s put some skyrises here because we have the demand,” she said.

A number of citizens, however, have said short-term rentals have changed the character of the community. There have also been complaints about noise, parking and trash.

“We need to go back to our Community Plan,” said Del Mar resident Robin Crabtree. “I think we really need to go back and look at that and look at it very closely.”

Del Mar resident David Doyle agreed.

“When we moved here, it was because I understood the cornerstone of that Community Plan is the special residential character and small-town atmosphere of Del Mar,” he said.

“When I moved to Del Mar nine years ago, it was unimaginable to me that right next door on both sides or across the street could be small, little hotel businesses,” he added.

After hearing from community members and looking at the research, the council decided to extend the moratorium for six months. It will be in place until Nov. 16.

“We need to recognize that it exists,” Councilman Al Corti said. “Right now, it’s not allowed. They’re not allowed per the code. It’s not stated in there, but we know it exists and they’re proliferating.”

Like the community, council members were also divided on the issue. In a 3-2 vote, the majority of the council agreed to move forward with amending the city’s municipal code to allow and regulate short-term rentals.

Mayor Sherryl Parks and Councilman Dwight Worden said that the temporary ban should be permanent. Worden said he doesn’t find short-term rentals consistent with the Community Plan or with residential zoning.

“If you look at our code now, if you’re in any one of our residential zones, you cannot conduct any kind of business,” said Worden, a former attorney, who suggested that existing rentals be phased out. “The only exception is a home occupation, and a home occupation you cannot have employees, you cannot have visitors, you can’t do anything.

“If I got together with a bunch of my lawyers and said I want to run my practice out of my (home) office,” he added, “I’m not allowed to do that.”

Councilman Don Mosier agreed that the Community Plan emphasizes the residential character of the city, but said the plan isn’t clear whether or not short-term rentals are an allowed use.

“The Community Plan was pretty specific in terms of zoning and it was very unspecific in terms of short-term rentals,” Mosier said. “I assume that’s because the writers of our Community Plan couldn’t really decide whether short-term rentals were going to be a problem or not.

“I think we need to have community workshops and continue to discuss whether we can regulate this business successfully,” Mosier added. “I think it’s becoming more and more popular and I think that we need to make an attempt at regulation that’s community-based. … But at this point, I’m not willing to say that we should prohibit all short-term rentals.”

The city plans to conduct at least two public workshops to gather more public input on possible regulations. Staff will draft an ordinance that will address whether short-term rentals will be allowed throughout the city or only in certain areas. It will also whether there will be a limit on the number of rentals allowed.

The first workshop is scheduled for June 9. The second workshop is set for Sept. 8 so the public can review the draft regulations.