BG Council asked to regulate short-term rentals in town

By Peter Kuebeck, [email protected]

Zoning matters were again a focus of Bowling Green Council’s meeting on Monday.

Resident Steve Ricard, a member of the Save Our BG Neighborhoods group, urged council to add zoning code regulations for short-term rentals, which he said are not covered in the draft zoning code update.

Short-term rentals, or STRs – familiarized by companies like Airbnb or Vrbo – Ricard said, reading a statement, are distinct from bed and breakfasts in that they are not owner occupied, and guests can rent an entire house, condo or an apartment. He said average stays can range from a weekend to a week or longer.

He said that companies like Airbnb and Vrbo “have made it easy and profitable to convert homes, condos and apartments into hospitality businesses. STRs are experiencing a rapid, meteoric rise in success – certainly in vacation areas, but also in college towns across the country.”

Ricard said there are currently 21 Airbnb and three Vrbo listings in Bowling Green, and that such rentals are viewed as lucrative investment opportunities.

He noted there are positives to SRTs in a town like BG, in that they can bring in tourists, provide for hotel overflow, and can serve campus events like game days and various weekend events that bring parents and alumni to town.

However, Ricard said that college towns are “scrambling to regulate their short-term rentals” due to the negatives they can bring, including that the “SRT market is positioned to buy up homes, which takes residential homes off the housing market, thus creating a negative market for new prospective home buyers. Also, there is no collection of lodging or excise taxes with SRT rentals, they compete with area hotels and some become public nuisances affecting public safety, noise, on-street parking and sanitation.

“Certainly, there are positives and negatives to short-term rentals,” Ricard said. “But our fear is, unless our city council is willing, like other college towns to regulate our STR market, the negatives will definitely tip the scale.”

He said that in the Ohio General Assembly, legislation called House Bill 563 passed in committee last spring. While it has not yet been introduced to the floor of the house for consideration, the bill is positioned to pre-empt local control and prevent municipalities from outright banning STRs.

HB 653 also restricts local governments from limiting the number, the frequency and the duration of STR rentals. Many cities in Ohio have passed STR regulations ahead of this bill, planning for a grandfather clause; Bowling Green should do the same, Ricard said.

Save Our BG Neighborhoods is asking council to add new zoning code regulations, he said. They would require STR registration, similar to BG’s Rental Dwelling Registration Program, passed in May 2021. They would also require a fee, a yearly renewal and penalties for non-compliance. Also, bed and breakfasts and STRs would be designated as “conditional” uses in residential districts, as well as the Central Residential District which was proposed at a recent council meeting.

Ricard said that Akron and Bowling Green, Kentucky, both college towns, have passed ordinances regulating STRs.

“There are five Mid-American Conference ‘college towns’ in Ohio,” Ricard said. “Bowling Green is the only one that has no regulations for its short-term rental market.

“Bowling Green needs to be prepared for the positive and the negative effects of STRs with some form of control through regulation. The current draft zoning code is void of any such control. College towns across the country have regulated short-term rentals. Our ‘top-rated’ college town must regulate them as well.”

Resident Winnie Rex said that while there is a view that Bowling Green residents have had adequate opportunity to weigh in on the city’s zoning code process, many others feel they were caught off guard by the changes that are proposed in the draft zoning code update.

She said that while some citizens may have read headlines, or even read the draft zoning update document online, and while there have been opportunities for public comment, that’s not the same as involving citizens from the beginning in developing the content.

Council President Mark Hollenbaugh noted that on Monday at 6 p.m., council will be holding a work session at the Veterans Building at City Park to discuss zoning issues.

“It’s been a while since we had a work session to discuss the zoning update, and the purpose of this meeting – we’re not going to be voting to add or subtract things from the zoning — but this is an opportunity for council members to bring forward things that they have come up with over the last month and a half, at least, since we had a meeting,” Hollenbaugh said.

“We’ve had a lot of emails and a lot of citizens come in and speak to us at lobby visitations, and I know that some of you (council) have met individually with some of the members of the community on this issue,” he said.

Hollenbaugh said that the meeting will be for council members to familiarize one another with possible ideas they’ve come up with, and some changes they may want to implement based on the interactions with the public.

There will be no lobby visitation at the meeting. However, a March 23 public forum – also at 6 p.m. at the Veterans Building – is scheduled for public input.

“This gives us an opportunity to know what each other are thinking and a chance for the public to get a glimpse of what sort of things we’re thinking about before that public forum, to make that a more productive experience for everyone,” Hollenbaugh said.

Also at the meeting, council:

• Approved a 50-cent increase in the pool pass fees for non-residents at the pool and water park. The increase was unanimously recommended by the parks and recreation board last month.

• Heard from Margaret Baker that the League of Women Voters will hold an open forum on the impact of school vouchers on public education March 16 from 7-8 p.m. at the Simpson Building. The forum will include a brief presentation and panel discussion with superintendents of Perrysburg and Springfield schools, and treasurers of Sylvania and Bowling Green City schools.

• Heard that 18 acres of turf grass at the wastewater treatment plant and 1.5 acres of turf grass at the water treatment plant will be converted to native plantings in a multi-year process. The project will help with city operations in reducing carbon emissions.

• Heard from Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter, who thanked staff who have been responding quickly to issues created by the recent inclement weather, including a power outage in the city.

• Gave three readings to, and passed as an emergency measure, an ordinance dedicating right-of-way for Woodgate Drive. According to a legislative package document prepared for council, this is “related to the construction of Woodgate Drive, that will extend from East Wooster Street to Woodland Circle in the Wood Bridge Business Park. The road will provide for vehicular access to the park and additional develop-able parcels. The project will include installation of a water main and provide looped water service to the business park along with construction of sanitary and storm sewers. An industrial developer is planning to construct a spec building with access from the new road, with plans for future development along both the east and west sides of the new road. Construction of the new road is slated to begin in April,” and to be completed on Nov. 1. The State of Ohio is contributing financially to the project, with the remainder being paid from the Water and Sewer Capital Improvement and Electric Capital Reserve funds.