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News: 05/01/2016

Panel OKs targeted ban on new vacation rentals

A divided Sonoma County Planning Commission voted to recommend to the Board of Supervisors a list of specific single-family residential areas in the county where new vacation rentals would be prohibited, almost all of them located in Sonoma Valley.

Included are homes in Kenwood and Glen Ellen, the residences zoned R1. Much of the Kenwood village area is zoned R1, as are many neighborhoods in Glen Ellen.

The Planning Commission found the heated issue of vacation rentals dropped back in their laps at the direction of the Board of Supervisors.

At a meeting in January, a majority of the supervisors approved a number of tweaks to the county’s vacation rental ordinance suggested by the commission, but did not take the major step of banning all new rentals in residential R1 zones throughout the county, as was recommended.

The total R1 ban was pushed by First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who said that Sonoma Valley was “under siege” from the rapid increase in vacation rentals ever since a vacation rental ordinance was put into effect in 2011.

The number of approved vacation rental permits county-wide totals 1,120, the majority of which are in Sonoma Valley and west county.

Instead of an outright R1 ban, the supervisors in January decided to create a new zoning overlay, known as an X Combining Zone, that could potentially be placed over distinct areas to ban new rentals.

These zones could be initiated in a number of ways, such as by direction of the supervisors, or by a neighborhood group applying to the Permit and Resource Management Department, though this particular rezoning process may cost upwards of $8,000.

Existing rentals in X zones that already have permits and pay Transit Occupancy Tax would still be allowed. But the vacation rental permit will expire if the property is sold. Existing permits could be permanently revoked for repeated violations of the vacation rental ordinance.

The stated purpose of the X zone is to prohibit new rentals in areas that meet certain criteria, such as inadequate road access or off street parking, potential of significant fire hazard, and where housing stock needs to be protected from conversion to visitor-serving uses. Additional considerations include bans in areas where residential character is “to be preserved or preferred.”

At the end of the supervisors’ meeting in January, Supervisor Gorin suggested that a number of specific areas in Sonoma Valley be looked at for possible X Combining Zones. These neighborhoods were analyzed by county planning staff and then brought to the Planning Commission for hearings on April 21 and April 28.

At its meetings, along with R1 neighborhoods in Kenwood and Glen Ellen, the majority of the Planning Commission recommended X zones in Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, El Verano and Agua Caliente. All together, these areas total close to 6,000 parcels.

Also passed by the commission were X zones in private residential communities in the Sonoma Valley, such as Diamond A, Sobre Vista, and Agua Caliente Knolls.

The Fitch Mountain area in Healdsburg is also tapped for an X zone.

At the Planning Commission meetings, the five-member panel (each appointed by their respective district supervisor) held a public hearing on the proposed X zones, went over specific maps of each area, and voted on each one.

Though each of the X zoned maps up for a vote was approved by three of the commissioners, including District 1’s Greg Carr, two of the commissioners either voted no or abstained, expressing their dissatisfaction on the entire concept of X zones.

Kathleen Doyle, representing Supervisor David Rabbit’s District 2, said she felt the X zoned maps were “punitive”, “too restrictive”, and “arbitrary and elitist in some ways.”

Doyle said she wished that the county would test the revised vacation rental regulations before putting X zones in place, rules such as the new code enforcement provisions.

Also expressing reservations was commissioner Pam Davis, representing Efren Carrillo’s District 5. Davis said she didn’t see X zones as an, “elegant solution to the problems in a community.”

The three commissioners who voted in favor argued that X zones are a good way to aid in the preservation of affordable housing and deal with issues regarding short-term rentals and neighborhood compatibility.

Greg Carr of Gorin’s District 1, said that, “Many people in Sonoma Valley feel the X zones are the only hope to recapture the residential character of their communities.”

A Board of Supervisors hearing on the Planning Commission’s recommendations is scheduled for May 24.

Planning staff said in the meantime they will still be taking vacation rental applications unless instructed otherwise.

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