Short-term rentals stirring talks

FAIRMONT — Fairmont Planning Commission opened discussion of short-term rentals on Tuesday.

With rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO becoming more and more popular, the commission decided to begin dialogue on possible future regulations.

Stephanie Busiahn, executive director of Visit Fairmont, told the commission that only three short-term rentals for Fairmont currently are listed on line, but the booming trend that has become a billion-dollar industry in the country will grow in the area. She presented a position statement from the Visit Fairmont board of directors calling for leveling the playing field for short-term rentals with the same safety, security, taxes and inspection requirements regulating commercial lodging properties.

“It’s not necessarily an urgent issue, but Visit Fairmont is doing their due diligence,” she said. “We have the luxury of getting ahead of this.”

Regulations vary widely throughout other communities. With the recent Super Bowl in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul scrambled to get rules in place to regulate the boom of short-term rentals during the event. Northern Minnesota communities with resorts impose various regulations, but Okoboji has none.

“It’s all over the board,” City Administrator Mike Humpal said of the regulations. “None have been in place long enough to say this is good or this is bad, but I think there’s some proactive things we need to do. Right now, we have nothing.”

“There needs to be things in place,” Busiahn said.

Taxes, which would be paid by the renter, not the homeowner, would enable Visit Fairmont to actively market short-term rentals as it does with local hotels. Likewise, safety and security measures, such as smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, would be required, just as they are in commercial properties.

Planning Commission members requested additional research on how other communities are handling the rentals and plan to revisit the topic in future meetings.

Turning to another matter, Megan Boeck, city planner/code enforcement technician, said the city will be looking to update its comprehensive plan, which addresses the evolution of a community through growth, land management and constant change.

“In order for comprehensive plans to be effective, it has to be an ongoing process than involves periodic evaluation and updating,” she said.

Fairmont’s last updated plan was done in-house by city staff in 2009, almost 10 years ago. Because of the onerous job and time commitment — about 18 months — involved in updating the comprehensive plan, an outside planning firm will be hired to do the update with input from volunteers. Ian Bents and Tom Lytle volunteered to represent the Planning Commission on the 25-member community committee that will offer input to the planning firm.

The city has budgeted $30,000 for 2018 to hire a planning firm, and Boeck hoped to have candidates available within a month.

In other business, the commission:

o Approved a new home occupation permit for Quinn Harbo for a mechanical contractor business at 1504 Larsen Lane.

o Existing home occupation permits were renewed for Dianne Bittenbinder for an art studio/art classes at 650 Embassy Road and William Rosa for a yoga studio at 916 N. Park St.

o A conditional use permit was renewed for David King for a car wash in a B-3 general business zone at 1205 Highway 15 South.