A few short months ago Napa County was in the middle of a fight over Vacation Home Rentals. Some of the arguments that we heard at the last Council Meeting in Twentynine Palms were echos of many of the concerns and arguments voice up there in Napa in November of 2009. One of the interesting arguments was because the law was not specific in addressing the Vacation Home Rental issue.
“Attorneys from Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, a Napa law firm that regularly deals with land use matters, agreed that vacation rentals are not currently permitted under county law.” The article says. Almost exactly what our City Attorney A. Patrick Munoz voiced at our last Council meeting.
By JILLIAN JONES
Register Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, November 30, 2009 12:00 am |
The Napa County Planning Commission will be asked this Wednesday to decide whether vacation rentals should be allowed in residential neighborhoods of the county.
The county’s General Plan has long prohibited residents of the unincorporated county from renting their homes for less than 30 days to tourists, yet Napa County Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said earlier this month that the county needs to adopt stronger language in order to make the restrictions explicit.
While unincorporated Napa County has a limited number of legally permitted hotels, B&Bs and other guest accommodations, there are also a number of illegal vacation rentals in the county where property owners rent their homes, second units and guest houses to tourists, according to county staff.
“They take rental housing out of the housing stock, and put it aside for tourists rather than residents,” Gitelman told the planning commission at a meeting earlier this month.
So with instructions from the Napa County Board of Supervisors to crack down on vacation rentals outside of commercially zoned areas of the county, Gitelman is proposing a revised ordinance that clearly prohibits timeshares, vacation clubs and other vacation rentals in unincorporated areas unless they are in areas specifically zoned for commercial use.
She stresses that the revisions will not add new restrictions but will merely make the language clearer and easier to enforce.
Critics of the proposal, however, argue that the new ordinance would create additional restrictions on homeowners in the county, and that those restrictions would infringe on property rights.
“I look at this as a new restriction,” said George Bachich, president of the Napa Valley Land Stewards Alliance. Bachich told the planning commission that he believes the proposed ordinance was “created out of thin air by a reinterpretation of an ordinance that does not specifically prohibit vacation rentals.”
Bachich added that he believes there is “effectively no prohibition now.”
“If it were already prohibited, you would not need a new ordinance,” he said.
Gitelman charged back that Bachich’s argument is simply a case of “wishing it wasn’t so.”
Attorneys from Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, a Napa law firm that regularly deals with land use matters, agreed that vacation rentals are not currently permitted under county law.
“The proposed clarification ordinance is consistent with laws on the books today,” attorney Michael Holman said.
The debate promises to be a lively one, with letters already pouring into the county from both sides.
Calistoga resident Lucy White called the proposal to crack down on vacation rentals “another infringement on the rights of property owners.” She stressed that the county’s “obsession that agricultural use should exclude nearly any other use is contrary to the cultural ambiance of the Napa Valley and is being carried to a very destructive level.”
Napa County Farm Bureau President Volker Eisele, meanwhile, said he strongly supports the ordinance as a means of “protecting agriculture from commercialization.”
Commissioners also appear to be split on the issue.
Planning Commissioner Terry Scott said the proposed ordinance is “critically prohibitive” and “too heavy-handed.” Commissioner Bob Fiddaman, on the other hand, worried that too many vacation rentals in the unincorporated county would infringe on the county’s agricultural and housing goals.
“I think it would change the character of the Napa Valley,” he said.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday. The Napa County Board of Supervisors will have a chance to either uphold or reject the commission’s vote.
The city of Napa has also grappled with whether to allow vacation rentals. City officials came up with a solution earlier this year that will allow some short-term vacation rentals to continue operation, but only under tight rules that will weed out many others.